Foreign civilian workers have been hired by the Department of Defence to service Air Corps aircraft due to a lack of specialist military personnel.
PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said unlike members of the Defence Forces, civilian contractors have the right to take strike action and if this were to happen it could lead to aircraft being grounded.
PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan said it was clear there was a manpower crisis in the Naval Service, but “the cracks have been papered over” in the Air Corps by outsourcing servicing, which is going to be more costly than having military personnel do it.
“PDForra has become aware that civilian tradesmen from outside of Ireland have recently been hired in a private capacity to service aircraft within Baldonnel, Co Dublin,” Mr Guinan said.
“It is PDForra's considered opinion that the employment of civilians could inhibit the ability of the Air Corps to put aircraft into the air, as civilian employees are not inhibited from the right to strike and have more restrictive terms of employment for the employer, as compared to military personnel,” he said.
To counteract this, PDForra said investment in proper pay and allowances is needed to retain highly skilled Air Corps personnel.
The latest figures provided by the Defence Forces show as of the end of July there were 724 personnel serving in the Air Corps. Their minimum strength is supposed to be 886.
“Therefore, investment in proper pay and allowances for personnel must be made. The recent failure to increase technical allowance rates for senior aircraft inspectors was a clear missed opportunity to retain these highly-skilled personnel,” Mr Guinan said.
He said the lack of personnel has had a demoralising impact on his members, as more work is being expected from fewer people.
This has resulted in PDForra initiating legal action for breaches of the Working Time Directive for some of its members in the Air Corps.
“The frustrating aspect of all this is that PDForra highlighted the consequences of inaction by government years ago. Our association highlighted the time it takes to train personnel to the appropriate standard and now all these positions have to be backfilled from a position of low numbers,” Mr Guinan said.
There's also an issue with those on post-94 contracts. Air Corps members who signed up to these are supposed to see their contracts terminated by the Government at the end of next year. Many are still fit enough and want to keep working.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he will address this issue shortly. There are 700 personnel on these contracts in the Defence Forces.
“The current impasse regarding the durations of contracts for line personnel is adding to the insecurities of the job, which in turn is resulting in personnel leaving the Defence Forces at a time when we are experiencing a significant shortfall across the organisation. This needs to be addressed urgently by minister Coveney and the Department of Defence,” Mr Guinan said.