9 Mar 2012

Defence Force likely to end job cuts

1:09 pm on 9 March 2012

The Defence Force says it is likely to stop job cuts because the first stage of civilianising uniformed staff was much more damaging to morale than it expected.

In the past year some 300 military personnel have been made redundant, however combined with a higher than normal 19% attrition rate, about 600 people have gone in the last six months.

At the same time, the Defence Force is spending $35,000 on a recruitment drive in the United Kingdom to fill the gap left by skilled people leaving the three services.

The Vice-Chief of Defence, Rear Admiral Jack Steer, says the Defence Force underestimated the trauma the first tranche of civilianising some jobs would cause.

He says the organisation is looking at a second tranche of about 130 specialist staff, but it will consider reducing numbers through natural attrition.

Change programme difficult - minister

The Labour Party is blaming the high attrition rate on Government-imposed cutbacks.

The party's defence spokesperson, Iain Lees-Galloway, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the process has been handled extremely poorly and has made people deeply unhappy.

Mr Lees-Galloway said highly sought after staff in the middle of their careers are lining up to leave.

But Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the changes are required in order to transfer resources into priority areas.

"Any change programme is difficult, and the Defence Force acknowledges that there are things they could have done better in handling this process. They've said they've learned some serious lessons out of this."

Upheaval predicted

Major-General Lou Gardiner, who headed the army for the three years to 2009, says the civilianisation of some roles was always going to cause an upheaval.

He says the army had begun investigating cost-cutting measures to allow it to make new acquisitions, mainly aircraft, when he was still in charge.

Major-General Gardiner says the force knew attrition rates would be affected, because any cultural change within the forces will cause an upheaval of sorts.