Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (57)

Jack Chambers

Question:

57. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when a new chairperson for the conciliation and arbitration council will be appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52902/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

When will a new chairperson for the conciliation and arbitration scheme be appointed? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? As he knows, in September 2018 the Barry report recommended that an independent and interventionist chair should be appointed. Why is this not happening? The Minister of State is ignoring the key recommendations to which the representative associations subscribe. Will he give the House a full account of why he is not implementing this recommendation?

The conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, provides an established mechanism for the two PDF representative associations to engage with the official side. The associations in question are the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the representative association for enlisted personnel, which is known as PDFORRA. In line with commitments under the public service pay agreements, members of the PDF can make representations on pay and conditions through their representative associations.

The conciliation and arbitration scheme, since its inception in the early 1990s, has provided the framework on which progress has been made on many successful agreements that have been negotiated between Defence Forces management and the PDF representative associations. In light of the many changes in the industrial relations landscape in the intervening period, I decided to initiate an independent review of the scheme, on foot of which a report was published on 2 October 2018.

The report of the review contains a number of recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of the scheme. The appointment of an independent chairperson of the conciliation council is one of the recommendations in the review of the current scheme.

All parties to the scheme, including the PDF representative associations, are collaborating to develop the terms of a revised conciliation and arbitration scheme that incorporates the recommendations in the Barry review. Steady progress is being made. A small number of issues that require agreement are outstanding, but I expect them to be finalised shortly. This will allow for the implementation of the terms of the revised scheme, including the appointment of an independent chairperson.

The Minister of State has indicated that the Barry report recommended that an independent chairperson should be appointed by the Minister for Defence following consultation with the parties. Why is the Minister of State prevaricating and delaying the filling of this important role? He keeps saying that a new scheme will be signed off on. Has he approached anyone to become an independent chair? Why has the process not been completed? There seems to be total delay and prevarication. Will the Minister of State confirm whether anyone has been approached? The scope of the scheme should be broadened to allow all matters relating to terms and conditions of employment to be discussed. I understand that the military representative associations are concerned that the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Defence are trying to move the goalposts around what is arbitrable within the scope of the scheme, and that this is delaying the process of signing off on the appointment of an independent chair and some of the other measures that have been mentioned by the Minister of State. Will the Minister of State confirm whether he has approached anybody? What are the issues? Why is there a perception that the goalposts are being moved in a way that will undermine the key recommendations for the scheme?

I want to facilitate all parties that are involved in the scheme, including the two representative associations. The Deputy should go back and correct his information. He is incorrect in his assertions. I do not want to come in and enforce a scheme on top of the representative associations. I want to be able to say that every party has played its part. This scheme will be in place long after I have left my current role. I hope it will be able to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. A year after I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for defence in 2016, I felt that the conciliation and arbitration scheme was outdated, wrong and in need of improvement. That I why I brought in Mr. Barry to review the scheme and the present structures. I asked him to make recommendations. He made a number of recommendations. One or two small issues have yet to be signed off. I am absolutely confident that these will be resolved shortly. I have a number of people in mind, each of whom would make an excellent chair of the conciliation and arbitration scheme. I have told both representative associations that I will not appoint anyone until both of them have signed off on the scheme.

The Minister of State has published the recommendations of the report that he set in motion. It is accepted that he wants to restructure the conciliation and arbitration scheme. The problem is the implementation. Why is it taking so long? We are in the final weeks of 2019. The recommendations were issued in October 2018. It seems that it would be very simple for the Minister of State to act on the recommendations in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, but we have not had any action on that front. This is crucially important. I understand that the reform of the scheme and the recommendations in the report are being undermined by the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform. Why is the Minister of State not approaching someone with a view to appointing him or her as an independent chair? Such an appointment would allow us to move on in the spirit of reform that was mentioned in the Barry report. The Minister of State has not explained whether he has approached anyone or why he will not proceed with this appointment. This is a crucial issue for the representative associations. The Minister of State has not provided clarity on what the "small issues" he mentioned are. How long will it take to overcome them? When will this happen?

It would be totally improper to start discussing the outstanding issues until they have been finalised by the two representative associations and the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform. I am absolutely content that those issues will be finalised shortly. The recommendation that a chairperson be appointed, which has been mentioned by Deputy Chambers, is just one of a number of recommendations in the report. I am not going to enforce any scheme. I do not want to enforce any scheme on the representative associations. I want the associations to be content and happy that this is a workable scheme. As I have said here previously, and as I have said to both representative associations, when they have accepted the recommendations and all of this has been fully worked out, I will appoint an independent chair. I will not appoint an independent chair when the scheme has not been agreed on and finalised. It would be totally unfair for an independent chair to come in and work with a scheme that has not been signed off on. I want this scheme to work in the spirit of the way it should work. I do not want either side to have an axe to grind with the independent chair. The independent chair will come in when the recommendations have been implemented. I assure Deputy Jack Chambers that if I came in here and enforced the scheme on the representative associations, Deputies on his side of the House would be challenging me in the opposite way to the way in which he is challenging me right now.