I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 17, 20, 26, 30, 34 and 36 together.
I am aware of the longstanding desire of PDFORRA to associate with ICTU.
In 2017, in a non-binding ruling, the European Committee of Social Rights 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 ICTU, and in respect of the right to bargain collectively.
This case related to a complaint made 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.
The complainant claimed that Ireland was in breach of the European Social Charter by prohibiting military personnel from the right to strike, prohibiting the Permanent Defence Force representative associations from affiliating with a national employee organisation such as ICTU and an alleged restriction on the Permanent Defence Force representative associations at negotiations on national pay agreements.
The Government welcomed 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 a violation of the European Social Charter. It is critically important that the Defence Forces are fully operational at all times. The taking of any form of industrial action is irreconcilable with military service.
It should be noted that the basis for complaint pre-dated a number of significant Government initiatives. In relation to collective bargaining, the Government established an independent Public Service Pay Commission in 2016, to provide objective analysis and advice on the most appropriate pay levels for the public service, including the Defence Forces.
Following the publication of the Report of the Public Service Pay Commission, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. The Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations were invited to the negotiations on the agreement which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. They were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations.
Both PDFORRA and RACO 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. The increases in pay are being implemented on a phased basis with the most recent increase being a 1.75% increases on annualised salaries with effect from 1 September 2019.
Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body, without the consent of the Minister.
To compensate for these limitations there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.
The Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force provides a formal mechanism for the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, that is PDFORRA and RACO, to engage with the Official side.
Having regard to commitments made under pay agreements, members of the Permanent Defence Force can make representations in relation to their pay and conditions of service through their representative bodies.
In light of the many changes in the industrial relations landscape since the establishment of the scheme, I initiated a fundamental review of the scheme in 2018.
While the majority of the recommendations arising from the review of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force are aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the C&A scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, there are no recommendations relating to the amendment of Industrial Relations legislation.
Instead, the Reviewer recommended that the Departmental and Representative sides agree a revised scheme implementing the recommendations in the Review. The reviewer recommended that the revised scheme be reviewed after a three-year period as this would afford the parties an opportunity to assess the schemes performance. The parties to the scheme are in the process of developing and agreeing a revised scheme. It is not intended to make any legislative amendment that will pre-empt the outcome of the revised scheme.
The terms of reference for the review included consideration of the findings of the European Committee of Social Rights in the case of the European Organisation of Military Associations (Euromil) v Ireland. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with the ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association/affiliation with the ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.
This is in the context of a statement which the European Committee of Social Rights took into consideration in their deliberations where EUROMIL claimed that ICTU had stated that PDFORRA could be affiliated to ICTU with whatever conditions the Government deemed necessary and that this remains the position of ICTU.
I asked my officials to examine this matter further and in this regard Defence management (civil and military) have engaged in discussions with ICTU.
Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. The feasibility of association is the subject of ongoing discussion and engagement with ICTU.
I have recently met both RACO and PDFORRA and this matter was discussed in the course of the meetings.
The implications of any possible decision around association or affiliation are being carefully considered.