Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Defence Forces Representative Organisations
24. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will lift the ban on PDFORRA membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, its access to the Workplace Relations Commission and its involvement in national pay bargaining arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27314/16]
My question asks the Minister if he will lift the ban on PDFORRA membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, its access to the Workplace Relations Commission and its involvement in national pay bargaining arrangements. This has been the view of members of PDFORRA since 1995.
Under the terms of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, the Defence Forces representative associations are prohibited from being associated with or affiliated to any trade unions or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Accordingly, the representative association PDFORRA cannot be affiliated to ICTU at present. The basis for the prohibition is that it would be inappropriate to apply the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to members of the Defence Forces. The taking of any form of industrial action is irreconcilable with military service. This is a long-standing policy position taken by respective Governments since the foundation of the State. The Defence Forces may be called on to contribute to maintaining vital services in times of industrial action. The potential for serious difficulties and conflicts could arise in these circumstances if the Defence Forces representative associations were associated with or affiliated to ICTU, given ICTU rules in relation to such matters.
However, a number of mechanisms have been put in place through the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme, which provides the representative associations with structures and processes to enable them to make representations and negotiate on behalf of their members. In addition, a framework exists which facilitates the associations engaging with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between ICTU and the official side at national level. This parallel process was successfully operated in respect of last year's rounds of discussions, facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, on an extension to the public service agreement 2010–2014, leading to the Haddington Road agreement. I remain satisfied with the present arrangements in place and have no plans to make any changes.
PDFORRA has long held the belief that affiliation to ICTU is imperative for truly effective and equitable negotiations to be undertaken on behalf of its membership. This view has been held by the membership of PDFORRA since 1995 when a vote on the matter was passed unanimously by delegates at its conference. Speaking at that conference in 1995, Peter Cassells, the ICTU general secretary, informed the delegates that while he recognised that the Defence Forces had a special role to play, members should still have a say on pay, taxation, social welfare and health and that this should be conducted through ICTU. Subsequent attempts by PDFORRA to petition various Ministers to grant affiliation status have been rejected.
Two years ago the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, made a successful petition to the European Committee of Social Rights, ECSR. PDFORRA reviewed that determination and considered the parallels between the circumstances of PDFORRA and the AGSI and also petitioned the ECSR. PDFORRA believes that the protections enshrined within the European Social Charter should apply to its members also. National pay agreements have been the norm in this country for many years and in the absence of the ability to highlight at central negotiations the matters affecting members of PDFORRA its effectiveness at negotiation is severely hampered. While there is a conciliation and arbitration scheme in existence for members of the Permanent Defence Forces, for many reasons this scheme is limited in scope and power. It is also identical to the scheme enjoyed by An Garda Síochána which was the subject of its complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights.
Finally, it could reasonably be stated that the appropriate benchmarks of a democratic society are that any restrictions placed upon its citizens are proportional, reasonable and necessary. I look forward optimistically to a review of the Minister's position.
PDFORRA has requested on a number of occasions, in 2002, 2009, 2012 and 2014, to become either affiliated to, or to take up associate membership of, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. These requests raise significant challenges from a governmental and societal perspective, including the risk of subverting the military chain of command requiring consideration. Appropriate systems have been put in place to ensure that the concerns of Defence Forces personnel can be dealt with in an appropriate manner through the conciliation and arbitration scheme. This includes access to independent adjudication. The system continues to operate well and I believe that Defence Forces personnel have achieved significant benefits over the years in this process. Personnel are critical resources for the Defence Forces. Consideration of a request to associate members to ICTU requires us to consider the potential conflicts and divided loyalties that may well arise where the Government decides to deploy Defence Forces in a situation of industrial unrest. In such circumstances it is impossible to escape the unique position of the Defence Forces in the State. For this reason, I regret to inform the Deputy that it is not intended to change the long standing policy on this fundamental matter.
The Minister's initial response was that this matter requires the consent of the Minister. He is the Minister and my question seeks his consent. I ask him to reconsider his position. Perhaps he would agree to meet a delegation from PDFORRA in the near future. Its requests are relatively simple and modest - to affiliate to ICTU, have access to the Workplace Relations Commission and to be involved in national pay bargaining.
To compensate for the prohibition of affiliation, mechanisms have been put in place through the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme to provide the representative association with structures and processes to enable representations and negotiations to take place on behalf of its members. I met PDFORRA shortly after my appointment and I will meet its representatives again next week at the association's annual conference.