Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee Stage

Apologies have been received from Deputies Lisa Chambers and Billy Kelleher. I ask members to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely or switched to airplane mode. It is not enough to leave them in silent mode as they can still cause interference with the recording and broadcast systems.

The meeting has been convened for the purpose of considering the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018 which was referred to the select committee by order of the Dáil on 18 October 2018. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, and his officials. Seven amendments were tabled, all of which have been ruled out of order. It is intended to conclude Committee Stage today. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Would the Minister of State like to say a few words about the Bill before we commence?

I would, if the Chairman does not mind. I will be brief.

As members know, the Bill is very short. Its main purpose is to give members of An Garda Síochána access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. When enacted, it will allow members of An Garda Síochána to avail of the broad suite of WRC services, including mediation, conciliation and adjudication, as well as those of the Labour Court in the event of an industrial relations dispute involving members of An Garda Síochána.

The Bill forms part of the ambitious four-year plan for implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Accordingly, it recognises the Garda Commissioner as the employer, instead of the Department of Justice and Equality. As such, for the purposes of the Bill, the Garda Commissioner will have lead responsibility in engaging in discussions on pay and conditions.

As I said, the Bill is very short. It contains just five sections and makes a small number of legislative amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. The amendments primarily affect sections 3 and 23 of the Act which include certain definitions such as those of a member of An Garda Síochána, a worker and an employer. The Bill also extends the concept of what constitutes a contract of employment in the context of trade disputes involving members of An Garda Síochána.

A schedule to the Bill seeks to actively disapply certain provisions of industrial relations legislation, particularly as they apply to the ability of gardaí to take industrial action, engage in strike action, etc.

I thank the Chairman for allowing me to make some introductory remarks about the Bill. I welcome whatever contributions Members may have to make on the Bill.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill as an important step. Gardaí are hard-working front-line public servants who have been in a somewhat unique position in industrial relations policy to date which has been a challenge both for them and the State. It is important that they be recognised. The issue is addressed somewhat in the Bill. It is a positive step which we support. Godspeed in its passage.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming. As he is probably aware, my colleagues Deputies David Cullinane and Aengus Ó Snodaigh introduced a Bill in April 2017 to allow members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána to be classified as workers under legislation and give them the option of forming trade unions.

The purpose of the Trade Union (An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017 was to allow the representative associations in An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to reconstitute as trade unions, if they so wished, thereby giving them full access to the State's industrial relations mechanisms, while making it illegal for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to engage in strike action for reasons of public safety and national security. Rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, the increased level of industrial action engaged in by members of An Garda Síochána and the continued negative treatment by the State of members of the Defence Forces in their pay and conditions were among the reasons Sinn Féin introduced its Bill. The continued ban on trade unions within An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces is in violation of international agreements and the fundamental rights of those employed in the sector.

The Bill which has been brought forward by the Minister of State has a similar, albeit considerably more limited, aim. It seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to allow members of An Garda Síochána and their representative associations to access the State's industrial relations mechanisms, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Gardaí have been waiting too long to be allowed access to the industrial relations mechanisms of the State. Internal disputes within An Garda Síochána escalated owing to the unavailability of a forum in which to address conflicts at an early stage. While long overdue, the Bill is very welcome.

Sinn Féin believes members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces should be allowed to join a trade union, if they so wish, and that members of the Defence Forces should also be allowed to access the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court in the same way gardaí will be permitted to do under the Bill. Will the Minister of State clarify if there is a particular reason members of the Defence Forces are specifically excluded under the Bill? As I said, while the Bill is very welcome for the changes it introduces for members of An Garda Síochána, it is far more limited than what is proposed in Sinn Féin's Bill. We intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill on Report Stage to strengthen the rights of gardaí and members of the Defence Forces.

I would like the Minister of State to address the following questions. Why will members of the Defence Forces not be defined as workers under the Bill? If it is for the Minister for Defence to decide if members of the Defence Forces will be allowed access to the WRC, will the amendments submitted by Sinn Féin concerning Defence Forces personnel be allowed to be discussed or ruled out of order?

Technically, the Minister of State does not have to respond to Deputy Quinlivan's questions at this stage. Standing Order 151 states:

In Committee, a Bill must be considered section by section. It shall be in order, however, before consideration of a section or sections is entered upon, to move the postponement of the section or sections until another section, other sections or schedules have been disposed of. Any section of a Bill may be amended in Committee, and new sections may be inserted.

The Minister of State can flag when the relevant section has been reached, at which point he can respond to the Deputy's questions, if he so wishes.

That is fine.

That is an appropriate way to proceed.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

As amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, are not relevant to the provisions of the Bill, they have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, not moved.
Section 3 agreed to.

Section 4 is opposed by Deputies Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett.

Question, "That section 4 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.

As amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are not relevant to the provisions of the Bill, they have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.
Section 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

Am I correct in saying I can introduce amendments on Report Stage?

I think so, but I will ask the Minister of State to confirm it.

I am not sure.

I am told by the clerk to the committee that the Deputy can do so in respect of the matters he has raised during today's discussion. I thank the Minster of State and his officials for attending.