The Government’s plan to double the number of women in the Defence Forces will fail unless its stops discriminating against them.
That is the warning from PDforra which has highlighted cases where women are prevented from getting their full pension entitlements if they take more than a year’s leave of absence during the course of their 21-year contract.
The recently published White Paper on Defence has proposed doubling the current complement of women who currently account for just 6% of the 9,000-strong Defence Forces and 15% of the 2,700-strong Reserve Defence Forces.
Women are allowed to take 26 weeks’ maternity leave and three months unpaid leave after that.
If they have a number of children, or have a sick or disabled child and need more time off to care for them, it could easily affect their pension entitlements.
Currently women are able to work an extra year on top of their 25-year contract to make up for a year’s leave of absence.
However, if their leave of absence totals more than a year, they are not allowed to work it all back and they lose the full pension entitlement.
PDforra wants the top-up time to be extended to allow women recoup the full entitlement and believe that if this isn’t adopted, it will pose a major stumbling block to attracting more women to join up.
PDforra general secretary Gerry Rooney said that the attitude of the Defence Forces towards issues impacting on women needs to change if a commitment on doubling their numbers is to have any chance of success.
“Increasing the number of women serving in the Defence Forces will require both increased numbers of new recruits and a higher retention rate among those already serving.
“In terms of retention, greater efforts must be made to help women balance the often competing demands of their employers and their families, for which they generally have a wider responsibility than men,” Mr Rooney said.
He said his association is currently seeking changes to the administration of leave of absences, which has a disproportionate and currently adverse impact on the careers of women in the Permanent Defence Force.
“The present system of administration of leave of absence makes it harder for women to qualify for pensions and this is totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable. The Defence Forces must now sort out this issue as a first step in the process of increasing the number of women serving in the Defence Forces and as part of their duty of care to women currently serving both at home and overseas,” Mr Rooney said.
The 125 delegates attending its annual conference, who representing nearly 7,000 personnel in the army, the Naval Service, and the Air Corps, are hoping that Defence Minister Simon Coveney will address this issue and other problems when he speaks today at the event which is taking place in Galway.
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