Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Questions (4)

Seán Crowe


4. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that an organisation (details supplied) has formally applied to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; if he has met the organisation to discuss this issue; if he has met the ICTU to discuss the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38536/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

This question is about PDFORRA's affiliation with the ICTU as an associate member. Will the Minister of State confirm that he met PDFORRA and the ICTU to discuss this issue? Will he provide the House with a report on the meetings he had with them?

I am aware of the long-standing desire of PDFORRA to associate with the ICTU. 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. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union. 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.

In 2017 the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition on the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of the charter in respect of the right to organise, that is, to affiliate to certain organisations, and the right to negotiate collective agreements. These findings were considered as part of an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force which was completed last year. One of the recommendations from the 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 Permanent Defence Force representative association forming an association or 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. Association with the ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine the matter further and, in that regard, defence management, civil and military, has engaged in discussions with the ICTU. Defence management has also met the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss the matter. I have also recently discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation or association with both RACO and PDFORRA. The feasibility of association is the subject of ongoing discussion and engagement with the ICTU. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.

I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's personal view on affiliation. He is aware that a motion was passed by the Dáil on 13 June which called for Defence Forces representative organisations to be able to take up associate membership of the ICTU. The Government should accept this position which is the position of the Dáil. The ICTU's national council has since approved, in principle, an application from PDFORRA to become an associate member of Congress.

While members of the Defence Forces recognise the unique nature of their service to the State, they should not be disadvantaged as a result. Defence Forces members are the lowest paid of all public servants. When it comes to public sector talks, members of the Defence Forces representative organisations do not have a seat at the negotiating table. That is something that needs to be looked at. Members of the Defence Forces have also been forced to take their case to the European Committee of Social Rights, as the Minister of State pointed out, to have their right to collective bargaining recognised. The committee ruled that the Government was in breach of the European Social Charter in respect of the right to organise, the right to affiliate to a certain organisation and the right to enter into negotiation and collective bargaining.

To allay fears about a military strike, PDFORRA has clearly indicated that it is not interested in securing a right to strike. Its moves to become part of a trade union will not in any way jeopardise national security. Trade union membership is not incompatible with military service. We know this from what happens in other countries. Will the Minister of State confirm that he will not veto PDFORRA's affiliation to the ICTU as an associate member?

The Deputy understands this originally came from the European Committee of Social Rights. As I have stated, my officials are engaging with the ICTU. I will await the outcome of that engagement. The Deputy is right that a motion was passed in the Dáil. It was a Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion, in which Fianna Fáil, with the support of Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, called for PDFORRA to be given the right to have representation through the ICTU. The motion was supported by the Opposition and tabled by Deputy Jack Chambers.

When Mr. Gerard Barry was looking at the review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme, as part of the terms of reference, I included the question about the ICTU that had come from the European Committee of Social Rights to ascertain how the Defence Forces representation arrangements and pay determination system compared in an international context. I asked him to look at that matter. The recommendation was that there be engagement with the ICTU, the Department of Defence and military management. That engagement has been ongoing and I am waiting for the report to come back to me. I will consider it. I will also consider and take into account all of the concerns of any association or individual when I am making the decision.

PDFORRA represents public service workers. There is no legitimate reason it does not deserve to have its voice heard, just like any other public service representative body. The Minister of State mentioned the motion that was passed in the Dáil, but, again, he says he will wait and see. How long are workers to wait? The rights of those working in the Defence Forces should not be less than those of any other worker. Again, we have a situation where more cases are being dragged through the courts. The Government needs to act. This is one area that could be addressed to raise morale in the Defence Forces. The motion passed by the Dáil called on the Government to bring forward legislation to provide for implementation of the working time directive within a six-month period. Will the Minister of State abide by that timeline? Will the working time directive be adhered to within a six-month period? That was also included in the motion passed by the Dáil.

I will address the ICTU question first. PDFORRA has requested on a number of occasions to either become affiliated with or to take up associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. These requests raise significant challenges from both a Government point of view and a societal perspective. We also have to take into account the risks of impinging on the military chain of command, which requires detailed consideration. The request for associate membership of ICTU requires us to consider the potential for conflicts and divided loyalties that may well arise when the Government decides to deploy the Defence Forces for the maintenance of essential services. The ability of the Defence Forces to perform all their duties as assigned by the Government cannot be impeded by affiliation with any organisation. My officials are currently engaging with ICTU on this issue and I am awaiting a full and comprehensive report, which I am not going to rush. I want a comprehensive report in order that I can consider the findings and make a recommendation to the Government, whatever that may be. We have to carefully consider this because this is a broad move away from what we have had in the past.