On Pay, Recruitment, Retention, and “Satisfaction”…

So, it’s about that time again.  Every so many years, people in the Canadian Forces (along with other Canadian government agencies and departments) start looking at what potential raises and pay adjustments will be coming out.  And I’ve been paying attention to a couple of online Reddit groups, message boards, etc., etc., and see that things are somewhat hammered out.

The PSAC union (Public Service Alliance of Canada), the group which oversees the majority of Canadian government public service employee groups, along with the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), generally sets the bar for what to expect as it relates to pay increases and such.  The talk looks to be about a 6% pay raise, retroactive to 2012.  So, it looks to be that the tentative agreements lay out the following:

  • 1.75% for 2012
  • 2.0% for 2013
  • 1% for 2014
  • 1% for 2015
  • Then, also tentative for 1.25% for 2016 and 2017 also

Now, this all appears to be tentative.  Everyone’s waiting on the Treasury Board / government to sign off on all these tentative agreements, which should take place by the middle of June apparently.  The RCMP is also negotiating and trying to sort things out (they’re still in the process of hammering out a union formation, since the Supreme Court of Canada recently awarded them unionization rights).

This would then trickle down to similar retroactive pay raises across other federal government departments and organizations, including down to the Canadian Forces.  Meaning, a trained Corporal (at a 4-year pay incentive level, which is the vast majority of Forces members) would go from earning $58,000 or so a year, to just over $63k for 2017 (not including Specialist pay levels, or any other perks).  Plus, with this all being retroactive, there would be back-pay of about $8000 pre-tax owed to said Corporal.

In my opinion (and yes, I’m only the “little guy” in the room with this as well), it’s a good thing.  More money (generally) is always good.  It helps retention, recruitment, morale and esprit de corps (which is really at some all-time lows within the Forces based on many formal and informal estimates and surveys going on recently).

But it’s paltry too.  Some of those numbers look good, but it’s only 6% – inflation, based on Bank of Canada numbers, has worked out to be 6.71 percent, from April 2012 until April 2017.  So SHIIIIIIIIEEEEETTTT, this (currently still hypothetical and hoped-for) retroactive raise doesn’t even keep up with the pace of inflation.

Now, reading some of those Reddit threads and message board and forum discussions, it funny how there are lots of those that come out of the woodwork with the typical tripe – “we’re the second-highest paid Forces in the world already”, “if you don’t like it, quit”, “everyone else has frozen pay too” [not quite true, in actuality, apples-to-apples as much as it can be], “no one joined to get rich”, etc., etc.  These are the same types of pricks who argue for the sake of arguing, who bitch about everything but offer no suggestions or improvements towards it, who become the new “old dinosaurs” who stick to the age-old way of doing things in the military “just because that’s the way it’s always been done, so why change/fix/improve it”, etc., etc.

I also HATE hearing the old adage, “you joined to serve your country”, and that money’s not everything, and that “to serve with honour” sacrifices must be made, etc.  Well, yes, we make sacrifices – to serve as Military Police, rather than on a civilian police service, there’s more sacrifices than normal.  There’s extended absences from home (not just missing a simple birthday or being out on a call rather than being home for dinner, but being days and weeks away instead).  There’s international taskings, ops, and missions that all come into play, and not just working in your own “backyard” or home neighbourhood.  But sacrifices like those are what’s expected for the added “honour of serving one’s country”.  You’re simply willing to give up certain comforts and privileges for the added honour of being one of the few.  But, sorry, but pay doesn’t NEED to be one of those sacrifices too.

I for one (obviously) would definitely like to see the raises and improvements.  As I mentioned, so many things are not looked at positively within the forces right now.  Pay improvements help.  As Military Police especially, we’re already 20-30% less than comparable civilian agencies, and that’s not including any overtime or court-time pay (which we do NOT get as MPs).

As well, over the past number of years, there’s been many things cut out of our pay, besides not having raises or getting a cost-of-living-increase.  Over $400 a month cut from my pay, in my case alone, just in my first two years.  Now, also add in that we don’t have money for many “typical” things – uniforms are back-ordered, we can’t get new boots in place, something that should take a week or two takes 10 months to work through the bureaucratic red-tape nightmares that have been put in place, many units (especially on the Reserve side) can’t get enough bullets and other consumable items for regular-enough training, much equipment is in such disrepair and Red-Green-duct-tape’edness (just to get through another day) that things are getting onto the side of embarrassing.  And hell, all that tied in with the fact that many Forces members live in PMQ / RHU housing on the bases, in houses owned by an arms-length civilian agency, where the rental cost on a house is about 80% of what an actual mortgage cost would be on a comparable local house.  This is insane to be charging Forces members that, when you consider these homes are on DND property, most built and paid for since the 1940s to ’60s, that are long paid for and don’t cost the government all but a dime to have, and yet they’re fleecing our Forces members that way.  And, since it’s an arms-length civilian property-management agency, THEY always make sure they get their annual price increases, and stay ahead of inflation with annual fee increases.  It’s such a joke.

Could it be worse?  Hell yes.  We in the Forces do (I know, I know) have the ability to leave; it IS indeed a voluntary choice to be in the Canadian Forces.  Granted, they make it an ABSOLUTE BITCH for those wanting to transition out (six-months minimum to “voluntary release” and get out; this ain’t your civilian aspect of “two-weeks notice” and you’re good-to-go, darling).  But we’re not a conscription Forces, and as I mentioned before, we are definitely up there on the remuneration paid (though our taxation and cost-of-living is also higher than most too).

But it could be made much, MUCH better too.  The Forces loses SO MUCH money in retention and recruitment and training – how many pilots are lost early to civilian companies, MPs to civilian police forces, CF firefighters to municipal services, military medical staff to public agencies and hospitals, etc., etc.  If you want the skills and the training and the experience to stay (ESPECIALLY AS IT RELATES TO “PURPLE TRADES” AND CERTAIN SPECIALTIES), to not have such heavy retention losses, then pay up.  Make things at least somewhat comparable to civilian rates of pay – not 40 to 50% less.  (It’s absolutely disgusting when CF firefighters make what they do, but then the CIVILIAN-run DND firefighters [who do the “regular” CF bases aside from those with airports/airstrips themselves] have their pay tied to within 30% of the very top tier of what outside civilian agencies get, and so, they just recently got a 20% or so pay raise to factor in changes from the last 5 years or so.  Meaning the same rank/position from CF fire to DND/civilian fire can be a difference of almost double the pay.  Fucking disgusting.)  So why not automatically attach a cost-of-living increase that matches the annual inflation rate???  You’d get rid of the need for all this money wasted on giant TEAMS of people negotiating new contracts, leg work needed, lengthy negotiations and man-hours spent doing all this, etc., etc.  Short term, yeah, it may cost more.  But the long-term savings from higher retention rates, and then less costs in recruitment and training, and people staying longer to continue to serve, will pay dividends.

Ask civilians what they want from their agencies – do you want the vast majority of people working for emergency services to have 5-10 years experience only, or the vast majority to be in the 10-30 year experience level???  I know I sure as shit would rather have a doctor doing surgery on me with 24-years-experience and X-amount of previous procedures performed, rather than a doc with only 7-years under his/her belt, and “that’s the best we have, right now, due to recruitment and retention”, etc., etc.

Emergency services (police, fire, ambulance), doctors, nurses, etc. – these make up a fair portion of what we call the “purple trades” in the CF.  In civilian society, these professionals and trades are quite generously paid – and that’s because (put gruffly) these people do shit, see shit, and prepare for shit that the average person can’t or won’t be able to handle.  They are, day-in and day-out, prepared and preparing for everything that the average person couldn’t even IMAGINE sometimes.  They make up a part of why everyday society is simply able to function and continue to operate, blinders-on sometimes.  Now….take these trained professionals….and put them into an armed-forces mandate and concept-of-operations.  Take them, doing these jobs, and insert it into both domestic and international operations.  Where our clearly-defined Canadian lines-of-operation start to get fuzzy, and a billion other variables start coming into play.

And yet, WE PAY THEM ANYWHERE FROM 20-50% LESS THAN WE PAY CIVILIAN COUNTERPARTS, AND WE WONDER WHY EXPERIENCE / RETENTION IS SO PISS POOR, AND THEN WE WONDER WHY AVERAGE EXPERIENCE LEVELS ARE IN THE 5-10 YEAR RANGES COMPARED TO 10-/15-/20-YEAR-PLUS ON THE CIVILIAN SIDE?!?!?!?!

The problem is….the government (from ALL parties; this is a problem that has gone on far too long, and covered across many successive governments) and the greater bureaucracy in charge….they just simply don’t have a long-term view on this.  They spend millions and millions every couple of years on workplace satisfaction surveys, to see where to improve, to see what would help, but they DON’T LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS, and use it as simply a “check in the box” that they’re “listening to the troops” and hearing what the front lines have to say, etc.  And, what we end up from the top is that all anyone is looking at (for those in charge) appears to end up being budgetary bottom-lines,  the next promotion, re-election, “what’s best for ME”, etc., etc., etc., and NOT the greater picture unfortunately.

But hey, what do I know….I’m only the low guy on the totem pole.

Cheers all.

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