Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages

There were no amendments on Report Stage; the only amendment submitted was ruled out of order.

Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Fianna Fáil supports the passing of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018 in the Dáil today. I am chair of the Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and this Bill has come before our committee on several occasions. Citizens are indebted to An Garda Síochána for its courageous and heroic acts. Gardaí put themselves in the line of fire while policing communities on a daily basis. They keep us safe from harm. This Bill will enable members of An Garda Síochána to access the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court to help resolve industrial disputes. This is very welcome. Services extended would include mediation, conciliation and adjudication from the Workplace Relations Commission, and the use of the Labour Court, if necessary.

In 2014 the Euopean Committee of Social Rights, ECSR, in the Council of Europe found that Ireland was in breach of several articles of the European Social Charter, including article 5, the right to organise, article 6(2), the right to bargain collectively, and article 6(4), the right to strike. My party believes that associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions should be extended to Garda representative bodies to enhance their negotiation position regarding pay and conditions. Gardaí should be allowed to join and to take an active part in negotiations. This policy was supported by the ECSR in its 2014 determination.

The Government has constantly denied there is a problem with rural crime, saying that the statistics are down. However, that is not the experience of families living in rural Ireland. My party has successfully campaigned in recent budget negotiations to increase the number of gardaí, but greater investment is required for the force and for the communities it protects. This is a key piece of legislation, and I hope it passes through the remaining stages swiftly and is enacted as soon as possible.

I also welcome the fact that An Garda Síochána will now be able to access the industrial relations mechanisms of the State, and its access to the right to collective bargaining and industrial action. This is a positive Bill. I regret, however, that the amendment tabled by Deputy Quinlivan has not been allowed. We have heard over a long period of time of the difficulties members of the Defence Forces face, given that they have no mechanism with which to address their issues. The amendment was ruled out of order so I cannot speak on it, but I express the regret of the Labour Party that this has not been decided by the Government or made possible for the opposition to include the members of the Defence Forces and the many issues that face them, not least in terms of the amount of pay they receive.

Will this be taken into account? Will consideration be given to members of the Defence Forces and the fantastic work they do for the country for little monetary reward and with no access to the organs of the State to have their case heard? While the measures in the Bill are positive, it could have done much more.

Sinn Féin welcomes this move to remove the legislative prohibition on allowing full access for members of An Garda Síochána to the State's workplaces dispute resolution bodies, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Sinn Féin introduced a Bill in April 2017 which would have allowed the representative associations of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to reconstitute themselves as trade unions if they wished. The Bill would also have given gardaí and members of the Defence Forces full access to the State’s industrial relations mechanisms while making it illegal for reasons of public safety and national security for them to engage strike action.

I am glad the Minister agrees with Sinn Féin in this regard but it is a shame that members of the Defence Forces will be excluded from the scope of the measure. The Sinn Féin Report Stage amendment, which was, unfortunately, ruled out of order in the past couple of hours, aimed to change the definition of “worker” contained in section 8 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 by deleting the words “but not including a member of the Defence Forces and of An Garda Síochána”. We believe members of the Garda and the Defence Forces should be treated as employees when it comes to industrial relations issues. They should have access to the Workplace Relations Commission to ensure they have a venue to bring employment related complaints.

Defence Forces personnel are the worst paid workers in the public service, with many of them relying on working family payments to make ends meet. Members see a long-term career in the Defence Forces as unsustainable and unviable. In order to provide for their families, they are leaving the forces in droves. The Government must start listening to their concerns. It must recognise members of the Defence Forces are employees and entitled to the same protections as every other worker. This move would be particularly important as we have heard just this week from a retired general officer of the Defence Forces that the Government is treating them with contempt and disdain. This is simply not good enough. This is particularly relevant to many people in my constituency who are based Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick city.

Although this move to provide greater workers' rights to gardaí is welcome, members of the Defence Forces must not be left behind. We believe members of the Defence Forces, as employees, should also have access to the Workplace Relations Commission where employment grievances can be mediated and resolved. It was a shame, therefore, that the amendment was ruled out of order, as were other amendments put down on Committee Stage by Sinn Féin and Solidarity–People Before Profit.

Will the Minister review and support Sinn Féin's Trade Union (Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017 which seeks to give members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces greater rights as workers?

To be clear, any amendment that is ever ruled out of order is not because of shame. It is ruled out of order because it is not technically provided for. Anything that is in order will be ruled in.

I thank all Members who contributed to this debate.

In November in 2016, agreement was reached at the Labour Court to resolve a potentially serious industrial relations dispute in the Garda Síochána. As part of the resolution, the Government committed to provide the Garda representative associations with access to services of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court as a mechanism to resolve industrial relations disputes future. In decision S180/20/10 2018, the Government approved the drafting of the heads of the Bill to provide the Garda representative associations with access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

In addition to agreeing that legislation to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1990 should be put in place to provide access to the Garda representative associations to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, the Government in its decision noted other significant issues to be considered. These included issues such as to the status of the Garda representative associations, whether they should become trade unions, the right to members of An Garda Síochána to take industrial action and the process of determining Garda pay.

The amendment also puts the Garda representative associations on a par with trade unions only insofar as it is required to provide access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. However, it remains the case that the Trade Union Acts will not apply to the Garda representative associations or the sections of the Industrial Relations Act which confer protections on registered trade unions which engage in legitimate trade union action.

Gardaí are not just simply workers. They protect the State. One can imagine that the right to strike in this context could have broad consequences.

On the Sinn Fein concerns, the Defence Forces have a range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations on their access to normal industrial relations machinery which applies to wider society.

Question put and agreed to.