Industrial Relations (Members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the right of representative associations established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Síochána Act 1924 or the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, to carry on negotiations for the fixing of pay or other conditions of employment of their members and to join national umbrella organisation of employees, to remove the interdiction of the right to strike by members of the Garda Síochána, to clarify that a member of the Garda Síochána who becomes party to an insolvency arrangement or applies to become a party to an insolvency arrangement shall not be deemed to be failing wilfully and without good and sufficient cause to pay a lawful debt in such circumstances as to be liable to affect his or her ability to discharge the duty of a member, and to provide for related matters.

I would like to explain the rationale for this Bill. In December 2013, the European Committee of Social Rights adopted a decision that Ireland was in breach of its international obligations under the European Social Charter, which is a European treaty which guarantees social and economic human rights, following a complaint lodged on 7 June 2012 by the European Confederation of Police against Ireland.

The committee concluded by ten votes to one that there was no breach of charter on grounds of the prohibition against the police from establishing trade unions. The committee concluded unanimously, that there was a violation of the charter on the grounds of the prohibition against Garda representative associations from joining national employees' organisations. It also concluded unanimously that there is a violation of the charter on grounds of restricted access of Garda representative associations to pay agreement discussions. The committee narrowly concluded, by six votes to five, that there is a violation of the charter on grounds of the prohibition against the right to strike of members of An Garda Síochána.

At the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, the Government committed to undertake a review of the national situation in law and in practice in the light of the decision. This Bill seeks to introduce the necessary amendments to Irish law to bring it into compliance with the social charter. There is no change to the prohibition of members of An Garda Síochána from joining trade unions, as the European Committee of Social Rights specifically found that was not required by the social charter.

Representative associations of members of the Defence Forces have pledged to have a complaint addressed to the European Committee of Social Rights, similar to that which was successful in respect of Garda Representative Association, in order to be permitted to join umbrella employees' organisations such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and to participate fully in collective bargaining. However, they have stated that they will not be seeking the right to strike.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called in various recommendations and resolutions for the right to association for members of the professional staff of the armed forces.

It also called on all member states of the Council of Europe to grant professional members of the armed forces the right to association, similar to that claimed by the Garda representative associations, but with a prohibition in respect of the right to strike. The Bill does not propose to change the prohibition on the right to strike by members of the Defence Forces.

Section 2 of the Bill would provide that associations established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána Act 1924, that is, the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, or the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, that is, Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, will be exempt from the requirement to obtain a negotiation licence in order to carry on negotiations for the fixing of wages or other conditions of employment.

Section 3 would amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow Garda representative bodies to join or associate with the national umbrella organisation of employees, such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. Section 4 would similarly amend the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 in order to allow Defence Forces' representative bodies to join or associate with the national umbrella organisation of employees such as the ICTU. Section 5 would amend the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to allow members of An Garda Síochána to strike.

Section 6 would provide that actions by members of An Garda Síochána, while on duty, shall not be considered as being assistance to an employer who is a party to a trade dispute for the purposes of frustrating the strike or for the purpose of section 11 of the Industrial Relations Act. It is important that gardaí, notwithstanding the right to strike that would be extended to them under the Bill, should be able to maintain the peace and carry out their normal duties at locations where industrial disputes are taking place.

Section 7 deals with a slightly different issue. In 2013 the then Minister for Justice and Equality stated that there was nothing in the Garda code, the disciplinary regulations or the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 which would prevent gardaí from availing of personal insolvency services. Nevertheless, Garda representative bodies have expressed concern that there might be a difficulty in this regard. Schedule 5 of section 82 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which concerns breaches of discipline, includes in the definition of what constitutes corrupt or improper practices "failing wilfully and without good and sufficient cause to pay any lawful debt in such circumstances as to be liable to affect his or her ability to discharge the duty of a member or as to be liable to compromise other members". Under section 7, entering or applying to enter into an insolvency arrangement could not be interpreted to be a breach of Garda discipline.

I take this opportunity to point out that the Bill would have no financial implications for the Exchequer.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

I declare the motion for leave to introduce the Bill agreed. As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

In the event that the Government does not make Government time available to remedy a breach of Ireland's international obligations, I have no alternative but to move that the Bill be taken in Private Members' time. However, I hope the Government might deal with said breach in its own time.

The Deputy must formally move that the Bill be taken in Private Members' time.

Although it is disappointing to have to do so. I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.