Thursday, 13 April 2017
Trade Union (Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association; to remove the bar on a Defence Force member from becoming a member of a Defence Force association that may wish to reconstitute itself as a trade union; and to prohibit the use of strike action by an Garda Síochána or Defence Forces associations and trade unions for reasons of public safety.
Ba mhaith liom an Bille seo a chur chun cinn leis an Teachta David Cullinane. An fáth go bhfuilimid ag cur an Bille Cearchumann (An Garda Síochána agus na Fórsaí Cosanta) 2017 chun tosaigh ná chun aitheantas ceart a thabhairt do bhaill an Garda Síochána agus na Fórsaí Cosanta mar oibrithe. The intention of the Bill is to remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association and to remove the bar on those members becoming members of proper Defence Forces associations, such as the GRA, PDFORRA, AGSI, RACO or even the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association. It is about allowing those associations to become trade unions in their own right and to apply for the negotiating licence that has been denied to them by the State.
The impetus in respect of this Bill has been quite clear in recent times. However, most people are not aware that in October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the absolute ban on trade unions within the French armed forces was a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 states that everyone has the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join a trade union for the protection of one's interests. The European Court of Human Rights found that while it is perfectly legitimate of the State to put restrictions on freedom of association, a blanket ban on forming or joining a trade union encroached on the very essence of this freedom and is, as such, prohibited under the convention. Obviously, Ireland is also bound by that decision.
This Bill intends to address that anomaly as well as to give voice to the representative associations that have not been allowed to properly represent their workers, the members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána, many of whom have suffered greatly in recessionary times. I have received numerous letters from members of the Defence Forces and their partners and families explaining the tragic circumstances of some cases and the horrific financial circumstances in which they find themselves. The associations that are supposed to represent them do not have the right to represent them in talks on pay and conditions. That needs to end, which means that Ireland must come into line with other European countries. That is why we have proposed this Bill.
This is a Bill to: remove the bar on a Garda Síochána or Defence Forces association from associating with, or affiliating to, any trade union or any other association; remove the bar on a Defence Force member from becoming a member of a Defence Force association that may wish to reconstitute itself as a trade union; and prohibit the use of strike action by an Garda Síochána or Defence Forces associations and trade unions for reasons of public safety. We believe that the Bill and the restrictions outlined in it strike a balance between the rights of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and the rights of the people to protection. This Bill would, for the first time, allow members of the An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and their organisations to be classified as workers in law and allow members to join trade unions and engage in the State's industrial relations mechanisms in pursuit of improvement of pay and conditions. The only associations that members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces would be able to join under this Bill would be those already established under existing legislation. These associations can apply to register as trade unions and then apply for negotiation licences.
The Garda and the Defence Forces associations, once reconstituted as trade unions, would be allowed to engage in industrial action in pursuit of the protection of the pay and conditions of their members with certain restrictions. We believe that the Bill strikes a fair balance. I know that previous Bills have been introduced by Opposition parties in the past and that some concerns were raised about the lack of restrictions. We have taken all of those concerns on board and the Bill takes cognisance of them. I hope the Government will support the Bill when, at some point, we move it at Second Stage.