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    • The personnel drain problem in the defence sector is increasing

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    • Date: 05 March 2020

      Serbian defence sector is facing major personnel drain, with the main reasons being workload, non-work related tasks, salaries and inability to get promotion. This was highlighted at an event organised by Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) on 5 March 2020 in Belgrade.

      “There is a notable trend of personnel drain from the Armed Forces, as a consequence of poor human resource management and incomplete professionalisation. The Ministry of Defence and the Government have recognised this problem, but it is questionable if they have identified the right solutions,” underlined BCSP researcher Katarina Djokic during presentation of key findings on staff retention issues in the Serbian Armed Forces.

      BCSP research team could not obtain exact data on number of personnel who had left the defence sector, due to the fact that all data related to human resources were classified by a minister's decision in 2016, Djokic explained. Therefore other available resources were relied on, foremost the Official Military Gazette, which publishes discharge orders for officers and NCOs.

      “We have observed an increasing share of junior officers in the total numbers of officers whose service has been terminated in the period since 2014. The spike was in 2017, when 20% of all officers for whom discharge orders were issues were junior officers. In other words, at least fifth of the officers who left the defence sector in that year did in order to find another job, and not to go to retirement,” so Djokic.

      BCSP researcher Marija Ignjatijevic presented an overview of key reasons why personnel are leaving the defence sector. She cited negative selection in promotion, extreme workload and regular overtime, as well as obligation to fulfill tasks outside regular job description, as the most frequent reasons for leaving the service. Other issues include lack of training and professional development, inadequate accommodation and lack of equipment, said BCSP researcher.

       “Even though salaries are low, that is not a decisive factor. The personnel are more influenced by non-transparent promotion system, which relies on personal connections rather than meritocracy. Due to personnel shortage, people are more overwhelmed with work, which is causing further outflow. Very often, personnel are compelled to do work that is outside their job description, such as cleaning the parade square,” said Ignjatijevic.

      On the top of all these issues, Ignjatijevic noted that it was particularly concerning that members of the Serbian Armed Forces saw leaving defence sector as a more efficient solution to their troubles than filing a complaint within the system. The research has shown that they do not trust the available complaints mechanisms, and are afraid of consequences they may bear if they do decide to complain, such as transfers and fines. They aren't sufficiently informed about mechanisms they could make avail of to file a complaint either.

      “The Ministry of Defence needs to recognise that, in the 21st century, it is an employer like any other. They have to provide better working conditions in order to be competitive at the labour market and attract the most competent staff. It is unrealistic to expect that in 2020 the main work motivation Serbian Armed Forces members will be patriotism and that everything will function thanks to personnel enthusiasm,” concluded Ignjatijevic.

      The authorities have understood that personnel drain from the security sector is a problem. This is illustrated by the ongoing construction of “cheap” flats for the security sector personnel. Nemanja Nenadic, programme director of Transparency Serbia, emphasised that the Law On Special Conditions for Implementing the Housing Construction Programme for Members of the Security Sector has introduced special procurement regulation for this project, which is undermining public procurement system in Serbia. One of the issues he has raised is that the Law does not foresee what happens if there are more interested buyers than available flats.

      “There is a number of questions to which we have not seen answers. For instance, the Law defines who is eligible to apply to buy a flat, but it does not specify how flats will be allocated. What will happen if there are more purchase requests than flats? Moreover, what will happen if other employees in public sector start demanding the same treatment?,” Nenadic stated.

      The key recommendation to address the personnel drain problem is to carry out an analysis which specialisations are most deficitary and set staff retention priorities accordingly. BCSP has further proposed to identify the most important allowances which could be increased, but also to develop a transparent system for informing the personnel about vacancies and establish promotional boards.


       

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