Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman is considering giving the Defence Force its first pay rise in four years after a new survey showed record numbers of troops plan to leave.
The latest attitude survey, released yesterday, shows morale has plummeted to its lowest level – and more than 40 per cent of personnel surveyed said they intended to leave the force.
Morale has been falling since the Government embarked on making 600 positions civilian roles as part of a drive to save $400 million.
Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones yesterday revealed the armed services, particularly the navy, was losing staff to the lucrative Australian mining industry, with some companies "actively recruiting" in the Devonport area near the Auckland naval base.
The Defence Force could not compete with offers of more than twice staff salary packages, he said.
The flood of troops to Australian mines was one of the main reasons for a 22.3 per cent attrition rate in the navy.
The auditor-general's office said Defence Force numbers had reduced from 14,577 to 13,667 in the past two years.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman told the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee yesterday the Government was aware of sinking morale.
"We acknowledge we've got to do some positive stuff."
Young soldiers about to be deployed were "jumping out of their skins about their job" but people who had served longer had found the changes difficult, he said.
General Jones said the Defence Force had a range of strategies to boost morale but conceded there was "no silver bullet".
The loss in navy personnel had led to its inshore patrol vessels having fewer days at sea and sailors were being given more time at home to lift morale.
Wages were also being looked at, he said.
"Now we're making the savings, we're in a position to start negotiating with the State Services Commission and Treasury about how we reinvest in our people, to take away that pain and dissatisfaction and to show that people remain our first priority."
Labour's defence spokesman, Iain Lees-Galloway, said morale was "dropping through the floor" because of a four-year wage freeze.
Dr Coleman said the Defence Force had saved $25 million by not giving wage rises at the start of this financial year.
"We're looking at what we can do around pay but we can't really say any more than that at the moment. There will be money there for wage adjustments."
General Jones said despite the loss of personnel, the Defence Force had not lost "actual capability" but "we've lost depth of capability".
Although the force could handle all disasters for which it had contingency plans, it would strain to sustain another East Timor-type deployment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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