Noel, Towell, The Canberra Times
4 February 2016
Sailors on Australia's submarines will be given annual lump sum payments of up to $50,000 just for staying in their jobs as navy bosses grow increasingly desperate to keep crews on the boats.
The navy's high command hopes the big money offer will end their long struggle to hold on to enough sailors to maintain Australia's vital submarine warfare capability.
The unprecedented offer of different pay and working conditions to one arm of a Defence service follows a frank admission by top naval brass that the ranks of Australia's submarines crews are under-strength and fragile.
Navy personnel have been told that submariners will have their salaries topped-up by between $15,000 and $50,000, according to experience, each year they continued serving with the sub fleet, either on land or sea.
Under the "deliberately differentiated employment conditions" (ddp) those who take to the water will continue to receive their submarine maritime disability allowance and maritime sustainability allowances, along with the new lump sums in what is hoped to be a powerful financial incentive to stay with the subs or to sign up with the service.
But the lump sums will replace existing retention payments.
There will also be improved chances for promotion and for submariners to spend time serving in other arms of the navy.
Sailors will be able to cash-out some the large leave balances they accumulated in recent years and the submariners's leave arrangements will be reformed in a move to offer greater work-life balance.
In his message to all his personnel, Chief of Navy Tim Barrett did not try to gloss over the problems his force had experienced trying to keep a well-trained force of submariners in their jobs.
Crew shortages were a key reason behind the navy's struggles to keep a full force of Collins Class subs in the water, although the technical issues dogging the Collins boats have improved in the past three years.
The generous new approach is at odds with the pay deals offered to the majority of sailors, soldiers and Air Force personnel who had to resort to a political campaign last year to secure a 2 per cent pay increase.
One Defence expert says only time will tell if the new lump sum payments, that replace a number of allowances and entitlements for submariners not available to surface crew, will solve the navy's retention problem.
In his message to the navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett said previous efforts to retain sufficient numbers of submarine crew had not worked.
The Vice Admiral said a survey of submariners had indicated they wanted a better work-life balance, more opportunities for promotion and more money if they were to stay in their demanding jobs.
The survey results convinced the navy's high command to try something different for the submarine arm but Vice Admiral Barrett made it clear in his message that the ddp was "the way of the future."
"It is deliberate and different to what we have tried previously," he wrote.
"The aim of the…ddp is to improve the retention, attraction and re-attraction of those who are able and willing to contribute to the submarine capability."
Defence expert Mark Thomson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute agreed that there had been improvements, both on the technical and maintenance side of Australia's subs and on the recruitment and retention of their crews.
"The navy has had a lot of trouble retaining sufficient people in the submarines," Mr Thomson said.
"But the word has come down that there have been improvements and there are more crew than there used to be."