Thursday, 17 January 2019

Questions (6)

Jack Chambers


6. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when the working time directive will be implemented for members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1861/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence when the working time directive will be implemented for members of the Defence Forces and if he will make a statement on the matter.

As I previously informed the House, a Government decision dated 18 November 2016 approved the drafting of the heads of Bill to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. This will remove the exclusion contained in section 3 of the Act.

As I stated in my reply on Priority Questions earlier, I am not in a position at this stage to indicate a definitive timeline to introduce the appropriate legislation. There is ongoing contact with Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in this regard.

I must emphasise that the repeal of section 3 is only one aspect of the ongoing work. An internal Defence Forces working group is progressing further work on these matters.

As I previously stated, there is ongoing litigation regarding the application of the working time directive in the Defence Forces. This relates to specific circumstances. However, it limits the extent to which I can discuss ongoing work. As the Deputy will appreciate, it would also be inappropriate for me to comment in respect of any individual case or the legal strategy with regards to same.

I assure him that this matter is a priority for the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces and I have directed that work be progressed as quickly as possible. The Permanent Defence Force representative associations will be consulted on matters as they progress.

Late last year, we learned how a shortage of officers in the Defence Forces resulted in bomb disposal experts and marine engineers having to work 70 hours and 65 hours a week, respectively, without any overtime, and a survey carried out by RACO highlighted the Government's total disregard for implementing the directive, which would cap their working week at 48 hours. Germany, Britain and Sweden have implemented this directive and the Government has done likewise for the Garda. Despite losing a landmark case last year - I understand further cases will proceed in the High Court this year - there has not been any material action on this.

A RACO survey showed officers guarding Portlaoise Prison were doing 65 hours a week, those on guard duties at Shannon Airport were doing 53 hours a week, bomb disposal experts, as I have said, were doing up to 70 hours a week, and a Naval Service officer of the watch was doing 63 hours a week. Is it the case that it was only after PDFORRA assisted one of its members with a court action that the Department agreed to discussions on this matter? The Defence Forces deserve better. How many meetings have been held with the representative organisations about implementing this directive?

I am not sure of the specific number of meetings but the nature and duties of military life in general bring demands that are atypical to other security and emergency services. The directive allows for derogations and compensatory rest.

As I indicated, the Defences Forces have undertaken significant work in examining the nature of the duties of the organisation on how the directive can be applied to its members. I stated that there is a civil and military team working together on this. As I stated to Deputy Ó Snodaigh earlier, the military is to report back to the Department over the next short period regarding some of the work that it has done. I want to ensure that the representative associations will be fully consulted on this work. A volume of work that has been done between both civil and military authorities.

There is a legislative aspect to this as well. It is not merely that we are to implement the directive overnight. This is difficult work and we must look at the needs of the organisation going forward.

I can understand the frustration of people. When we do this, I want to make sure that we get this 100% correct.

The reason I asked the question about the representative associations is that PDFORRA stated that it saw more of the Department's officials in the courts than at negotiation meetings. There is a concern that the Department is more concerned with the High Court cases than with honouring and addressing this issue in a meaningful way. PDFORRA states that, as of late June 2018, departmental officials were admonishing the Defence Forces for stating that if they took their claims, that would delay the process of applying the directive. The Department, therefore, was threatening the members and the representative associations taking those claims. That is not the way to negotiate a meaningful solution to this issue.

The White Paper on Defence includes a core issue. Given the retention and recruitment crisis, the directive will never be implemented with the admirable target of 9,500. The Minister of State needs to have a discussion at Cabinet with the Ministers, and with DPER, to look at increasing the numbers to try and materially address this issue by reflecting a greater number in terms of the White Paper because directive will never be implemented with such a target. The Government needs to get real about that and an update on the White Paper would achieve that.

I do not accept that we threatened any association.

That is what PDFORRA said.

I ask its representatives to reflect on the language they use when they are chatting to the Deputy but I do not accept that for one minute.

The most important aspect is it is necessary to ensure that all work arrangements meet all the provisions of the directive and that there is dialogue with the representative associations. There has been dialogue in the past and that dialogue will continue right into the future when we talk about the directive. Complex work has to be carried out. On the other side of that, litigation has been brought forward. Of course, I must be cognisant of the language that I use when I speak about the directive, but the representative associations will be kept fully informed on the position regarding the directive going forward.