I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 32 together.
The European Committee of Social Rights has considered a complaint submitted by EUROMIL, a European umbrella body for military associations, on behalf of PDFORRA, concerning the lack of certain rights for military representative associations in Ireland. In a non-binding ruling the committee concluded that prohibiting military personnel from the right to strike was not in breach of the European Social Charter but that the charter was breached by prohibiting the representative associations from affiliating with a national employee organisation such as the ICTU and in respect of the right to bargain collectively. The Government welcomes the conclusion of the European Committee of Social Rights that the prohibition on the right to strike for members of the Defence Forces is not in violation of the European Social Charter.
It should be noted that the basis for the complaint pre-dates a number of significant Government initiatives. In relation to collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force representative associations participated in the negotiations last year on the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. The PDF representative associations were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations. Both PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, have accepted the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which provides for increases in pay, ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement, with the focus on the lower paid.
It is critically important that the Defence Forces be fully operational at all times. The taking of any form of industrial action is irreconcilable with military service. The Defence Forces have provided valuable support on many occasions for the civil authorities in maintaining vital services. This was seen most recently in the response to the severe weather event. In that regard, I record my thanks to members of the Defence Forces, Civil Defence volunteers, civil servants and civilian employees for their particular contribution.
The right to affiliate with the ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. A key concern is that such an affiliation would carry obligations that would be incompatible with military operations and the roles assigned to the Defence Forces. Members of the Defence Forces have a range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations on their access to the normal industrial relations machinery that applies in wider society. They include the redress of wrongs process, a Defence Forces ombudsman and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. Since its inception in the early 1990s, the conciliation and arbitration scheme has provided the framework to progress many successful negotiated agreements between Defence Forces management and the PDF representative associations. There have, however, been many changes to the industrial relations landscape in the intervening period. In that regard, I have initiated a fundamental review of the scheme to ensure it will remain efficient and effective for all parties. In January I appointed Mr. Gerard Barry to conduct the review. While the focus of the review will primarily be on the operation of the Permanent Defence Force conciliation and arbitration scheme, I have directed that the review consider the findings of the European Committee of Social Rights and this has been incorporated into its terms of reference. It would not be appropriate at this stage to pre-empt any conclusion arising from the review.