Thursday, 17 January 2019

Questions (2)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the timeframe for the completion of the heads of the Bill to amend section 3 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and remove the ban on members of the Defence Forces from the scope of the legislation. [1697/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Defence)

When will the heads of the Bill which will remove the exclusion of Defence Forces personnel from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 be published? This removal would enhance the safety and welfare of those workers by providing minimum standards of work, periods of rest, and the like.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Defence Forces are excluded from the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The Government has committed to amend the Act to encompass the Defence Forces. 

The uniqueness of certain military activities must be provided for in the regulatory framework, having regard to the specifics of the directive. Work is under way in this regard and my Department will continue to progress the legislative changes required with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality. In this context, significant work has been undertaken and an internal Defence Forces working group is further considering issues and will report on its findings shortly. Consultation with the Defence Forces representative associations has been initiated and will be undertaken as the current work evolves.

There is ongoing litigation in respect of the applicability of certain elements of the directive to members of the Defence Forces in specific circumstances.  This constrains my ability to discuss the nature of the ongoing work. It would also be inappropriate to comment in respect of any individual case or the legal strategy with regard to same.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the issues being considered are complex and there is a requirement to ensure that the Defence Forces retain operational effectiveness. In this context, it is difficult to be precise with timelines. However, I assure him that this is a priority for the Department and the Defence Forces.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I guarantee him that some of those who are involved in litigation have not been met with. Those litigants, and possibly others, will continue until the European Court of Justice judgment from 2010 is complied with fully by the State. Every one of those men and women who are in the Defence Forces understands the uniqueness of the organisation, yet they are able to look at defence forces and armies in other countries which have the same uniqueness but for which the European working time directive has been fully implemented. Others have come close, yet in Ireland we are still awaiting even the publication of the legislation nine years later.

These people are workers and they should enjoy proper working conditions. I received an email from one of them before Christmas. It states:

This morning I came off doing a 24hr duty. I'll get an extra 20euro next month for it. But after I drive there which costs about 10euro then I make half that. But it's not the money. It's the time away from my family over xmas. Would any of you wor[k] for 24hrs for 20euro extra?? Not likely. I sleep o[n] my friends sofa because I have nowhere to go most nights. I am on the verge of suicide ... I fell helpless and lost. I tried a 2nd job but that's more time away from my kids ...

How does the Minister of State expect workers to continue without the legal protections which would ensure that, even in the unique context of the Defence Forces, they would have proper time to rest and ensure that they are compensated when they have to work extra time?

I assure the Deputy that this is an absolute priority for me, the Department and the Defence Forces. As stated, several legal cases are ongoing and I must be very careful in the language that I use. However, the current situation must be contextualised. Legal actions are pending in respect of the application of the working time directive in very specific circumstances. I note what the Deputy said about 24-hour duty. We have made a submission on this to the Public Service Pay Commission, which I hope it will consider. A great deal of work has been done to date but more is required. Discussions between the Defence Forces and the representative associations will continue. The civil-military group has been established. The military understands that it must report back to Department shortly. I am very conscious that the representative associations must be kept informed of exactly what is happening at every juncture.

There is also a legislative aspect to this matter. That is being dealt with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty.

I understand the complexity and uniqueness of this situation. However, there is frustration among members of the Defence Forces at the complete lack of progress on all the points they have highlighted. I attended the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers, RACO, conference at the end of November. The association hosted representatives from abroad, including from the Swedish navy. They showed how the working time directive can work in times when a state is not at war or when its army is on stand-by or deployed. What is done elsewhere can also be done here without there being an impact on the cases that are before the courts. No one is asking the Minister of State to comment on those cases, but we must know when the legislation will be forthcoming. When will we see the heads of the Bill? If the heads are published, they can be debated by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, and that may inform the Minister of State's final version of the Bill when it comes to be presented. What I am suggesting would mean that, at the very least, a message would go out to the effect that progress is being made. The key question is when this will happen. Stating that it will come in time is not the answer.

I will return to the Deputy with timelines for the legislation. I will correspond with him over the next week or so. Considerable progress is being made, even if the representative associations might not see it like that. I assure the Deputy that a great deal of work is being done on the civil-military side. As stated, the military side is due to report to the Department on this shortly. We must look at work practices and activities, and at the needs of the organisation. There are a great many issues. It is no good to say implement the working time directive if there is some sort of weather emergency or whatever. It is necessary to ensure that all work arrangements meet all provisions of the organisation and that we engage in dialogue. I assure the Deputy that there is dialogue with the representative associations. I want to ensure that this continues, that we resolve the matter of the working time directive and that we pass the legislation. This also effects An Garda Síochána.

Gardaí are paid overtime.

It is a priority for both myself and the organisation, for the civil and military side.