Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
I accept that our amendment has been ruled out of order, but I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, will note the sentiment behind it. He referred last week to the review that is being conducted. He may be aware that we had some lively discussion in this House earlier today on issues relating to the Defence Forces. We have asked that the Taoiseach come to the Seanad to address our wider concerns in this regard. The aspects of this legislation relating to the Garda Síochána are welcome, but we must look now to extending the same courtesy to members of the Defence Forces. To reiterate, these provisions do not give gardaí the right to strike but, rather, to have recourse to the industrial relations apparatus of the State to resolve issues. I hope the Minister of State will agree to address our concerns in legislation before too long.
I take this opportunity to convey to the Leas-Chathaoirleach my deepest sympathy on the loss of his mother last week. Losing a mother, no matter what age one is, is never easy. I wish to put that on the record of the House in which the Leas-Chathaoirleach has such an important role.
I reassure Senator Mac Lochlainn that it is not the case that no progress is being made in respect of the Defence Forces on the issue of industrial relations mechanisms. Members of the forces have recourse in law to a parallel complaint and adjudication mechanism to compensate for the limitations on their access to the industrial relations machinery that is available to wider society. Members of the Defence Forces are unlike workers in other sectors in that they have an important and particular role to play. They do, however, have recourse to the Defence Forces Ombudsman, Defence Forces representative associations and the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the forces.
As the Senator acknowledged, I referred on Second Stage to the independent review that was completed last year. It recommended that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, to explore the practicalities of a Permanent Defence Force Representative Association forming associations and affiliations with ICTU while also giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. Dialogue has commenced between the Department of Defence and ICTU in this regard. There are a lot of issues to be debated internally before further progress is possible, but it is an important step in that direction. We should allow the engagement to continue and see what comes out of it.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators for their engagement with the Bill, which completes a series of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. It will enable members of An Garda Síochána to access the independent industrial relations machinery of the State, namely, the Workplace Relations Commissions and the Labour Court, to bargain collectively with the Garda Commissioner on matters relating to work conditions. As such, it plays a small part in delivering aspects of the Government's ambitious Garda reform programme. I acknowledge the invaluable work of the interdepartmental working group, chaired by Mr. John Murphy, which examined the industrial relations structures within the Garda Síochána and made recommendations on the policy underlying this Bill. It is a complex area and there was a lot of work to be done, which the working group undertook in a collaborative fashion. I also acknowledge the invaluable co-operation of the Garda associations. I appreciate that the Bill does not deliver all their ambitions but I believe they share my view, which I have stated previously in the House, that gardaí are not simply "workers" in the everyday sense of that word. We recognise that the police service is exceptional. We also recognise the unique powers gardaí have as guardians of the peace and our security and the importance of that.
The Bill strikes the right balance between ensuring the public need for the essential services provided by the Garda Síochána is met and the right for employees to negotiate for appropriate employment standards. I hope it can be sent to the President as soon as possible to be signed. Senators have done good work on the legislation and I appreciate the time the various spokespersons have put into it. I thank them for their full co-operation.
I commend the Minister of State on the Bill, which is a great job of work. I would also like to be associated with his words on the Leas-Chathaoirleach's late mother. The Leas-Chathaoirleach has always been extremely fair. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend sincerest condolences and sympathy to him.
I conveyed my condolences to the Leas-Chathaoirleach on the loss of his mother in person but I would like to do so again in the House. I agree with Senator Davitt that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is highly regarded in this House. We are very sorry for his loss.
I, too, commiserated with the Leas-Chathaoirleach privately but I would like to do so publicly as well, both on my behalf and on behalf of the Fine Gael Party.
I commend the Minister of State on introducing the Bill. It is an important step forward in providing a mechanism for those who lay their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe. It is important that they do not have to resort to other methods and that there is a mechanism in place to allow them to air grievances and raise issues. This is a quantum leap forward on which I congratulate the Minister of State.