Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 18 Oct 2018

Vol. 973 No. 7

Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to recommend the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the House. The legislation is being brought forward because of a commitment given by the Government to remove the legislative prohibition on allowing full access for members of An Garda Síochána to the workplace dispute resolution bodies in the State, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. This commitment was made following a protracted dispute in An Garda Síochána which culminated in a real possibility of a withdrawal of labour by gardaí. At the time of the dispute and following consultation with my ministerial colleagues, I asked the chairman of the Labour Court and the director general of the WRC to assist in the resolution of the ongoing dispute in An Garda Síochána in a manner that would mirror on an ad hoc basis the normal dispute resolution procedures which had been successfully deployed in other difficult disputes. I took this step owing to the unprecedented gravity of the proposed withdrawal of labour by members of An Garda Síochána and the impact it would have on members of the public and businesses. In November 2016 agreement was reached at the Labour Court which resolved the dispute. As part of the resolution, a commitment was given by the Government to provide the Garda associations with permanent access to the WRC and the Labour Court.

To assist the Government in honouring its commitment, a working group was convened under an independent chairman, Mr. John Murphy, a former Secretary General at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, to examine the industrial relations issues in An Garda Síochána. The working group consists of representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Defence, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the WRC and Garda management. The first report of the working group on industrial relations structures for An Garda Síochána was published in July 2017. It acknowledged that the Garda associations had a legitimate aspiration to have access to mechanisms dealing with all matters related to the terms and conditions of their members' employment. It recommended that the Garda associations be granted access to the industrial relations machinery of the State, namely, the WRC and the Labour Court, to aid in resolving issues and disputes that could not otherwise be resolved.

In September 2017 the Government accepted the recommendations made in the first report and approved the drafting of legislative amendments to provide for the granting of full access for the Garda associations to the workplace dispute resolution bodies. It also mandated the working group to continue to the second phase of its remit, namely, the creation of a regulatory framework within An Garda Síochána to ensure the legislative ambition of this Bill could be achieved. The working group is analysing, in conjunction with the Garda associations, the detailed operation of the industrial relations processes within An Garda Síochána. A robust internal dispute resolution mechanism is essential to the ongoing normalisation and professionalisation of industrial relations processes within An Garda Síochána. Such dispute resolving mechanisms should provide full responses to issues raised in the generality of workplace issues arising and must operate effectively for all concerned. It is important that there be clear timelines and that issues can be resolved. This approach should ensure that, in line with other places of work, only the more serious and complex cases would be referred to the State's industrial relations bodies for a determination. My Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel have actively engaged in drafting the Bill in discussions with the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. The Garda associations have participated fully in this process and more detailed discussions facilitated by the WRC.

The House may be aware that some of the Garda associations have expressed disappointment at the decision of the Government not to extend trade union status and the benefits that status gives to the Garda representative associations in the same manner as other employee representative bodies. In that regard, we must bear in mind that An Garda Síochána is a unique organisation. Within our society, gardaí have exceptional and unique powers. They include powers to invade our privacy, deprive us of our liberty, demand answers to questions and achieve some of these things by force, if necessary. It has been said the defining feature of a police force is that it has a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in society. Thus, the question of the right of those working in essential services to take industrial action involves striking a delicate balance between the importance of the public's need for essential services, on the one hand, and the right of employees to a voice in the workplace and appropriate employment standards, on the other. Taking all of this into account, gardaí, as members of a single national police force which is responsible not only for general law enforcement but also State security and immigration, are not the same as other workers.

In their unique circumstances different rules must apply.

I propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill, which is short and contains just five sections. Section 1 provides for the insertion of new definitions into the principal Act, that is, the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Section 2 provides for the amendment of section 3 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to include definitions of a "member" of An Garda Síochána, "Garda Síochána" and "Garda Commissioner". Section 3 provides for the amendment of section 23 of the principal Act, which deals with the definitions of a number of terms used generally in the context of industrial relations legislation, that is, the definition of "worker", which in the normal course constitutes a person over the age of 15 who has entered into or works under a contract with an employer. In the context of this Bill and the untypical nature of the employment relationship for members of An Garda Síochána, the Bill provides that a worker includes a member of An Garda Síochána, that a reference to "employer" means the Garda Commissioner and that a reference to a contract with an employer is covered by the particular terms and conditions to which members of An Garda Síochána are subject. Section 4 of the Bill sets out the provisions of the various industrial relations enactments being actively disapplied in the context of the Act. These provisions will form a new Schedule to be included in the principal Act of 1990 and will include provisions relating to trade union law as well as the right to collective bargaining under sectoral employment instruments such as employment regulation orders, sectoral employment orders etc. Section 5 relates to the Short Title, collective citation and commencement.

I look forward to hearing the views of the few Deputies present and working with them to progress this important legislation through the Houses as quickly as possible. I am very proud to commend the Bill to the House.

We will support the general principle of the Bill. During the legislative process we may seek to table some amendments to improve and enhance it, but in the main we welcome the opportunity to speak on it. It is important and timely that we acknowledge the challenges that members of trade unions and workers across this country have gone through in rebuilding the State's finances and in the sacrifices they have made in both the public and private sectors. This is very evident if one looks back at the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts that were introduced, which had a profound impact on people's take-home pay. This was emergency legislation introduced to underpin the basic financial viability of the State when it was threatened by forces in the form of the financial crisis coupled with an internal recession and a collapse of the housing market.

The reason I highlight this is that it is critically important to acknowledge that during the passage of that legislation, very often there were concerns and protests on the streets. We sometimes had tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the streets protesting pay cuts or cuts to public services. People are entitled to protest freely and wilfully and in a peaceful manner, in fact this is a sign of a healthy democracy, but of course one organisation that is equally obliged to maintain the peace is An Garda Síochána. If members of An Garda Síochána were equally involved in these protests, there would have been a very difficult position to address in the event of them turning violent or public disorder becoming part and parcel of a protest either in the main or on the fringes.

This is why this legislation is welcome. It acknowledges the critical role An Garda Síochána plays in the protection of the State, upholding the rule of law and keeping the peace. For all that we need to accept that members of the Garda must be treated differently in how we assess their pay and terms and conditions and equally their contractual obligations to the State. I welcome the Bill from this perspective. Members of An Garda Síochána should be entitled to collective bargaining, as has been highlighted by the Council of Europe's European Committee of Social Rights. There should be some formal process whereby An Garda Síochána can go to our industrial relations process, the apparatus of the State, and have their grievances aired and their terms and conditions scrutinised and even set. Of course, every sovereign government is entitled to be the final arbitrators on the pay and conditions of any public sector employee or organisation. The system we have in place is a voluntary form of industrial relations whereby people go to the Workplace Relations Commission, their grievances can be heard and the Labour Court can adjudicate if there are still issues to be addressed or to see whether or not they have been maintained. As I said, An Garda Síochána should be entitled to access these processes. Equally, however, there is no way we could as a State or as a people allow a member of An Garda Síochána or the organisation collectively to withdraw its labour, which is effectively what an industrial dispute is. It is the threat of workers, and their entitlement, to withdraw their labour to highlight grievances they have with their employers, the employer in this case being the State itself.

Some will say that every worker has this entitlement, but equally An Garda Síochána has a special status within the State in the sense that, as the Minister of State outlined, it has extraordinary powers conferred on it. Of course, all these powers are conferred on it by this Parliament, underpinned by the Constitution, so they could be mitigated and withdrawn if Parliament so deemed it necessary. The Garda has extraordinary powers, both as individuals and collectively as an organisation, but only within the rule of law. If a member of An Garda Síochána breaches the rule of law, then as with everyone else, there is a sanction for that.

There are a number of reasons we are here. First and foremost, the European Committee of Social Rights, in EuroCOP v. Ireland, found that the State was not in compliance with a number of elements of the European Social Charter. This is non-binding, but at the same time we like to comply when and if we can and as best we can with these recommendations from the various committees adjudicating on Ireland's performance vis-à-vis European obligations. The ECSR identified a number of breaches: in respect of Article 5, concerning the right to organise, on the grounds of the prohibition of police representative associations joining national employment organisations; in respect of Article 6.2, concerning the right to bargain collectively, on the grounds of restricted access of police representative associations to pay agreements and discussions; and in respect of Article 6.4, on the grounds of the prohibition faced by members of the police of the right to strike. The ECSR also indicated that restrictions on the exercise of the right to strike, such as requirements relating to the mode and form of industrial action, were acceptable. The type of restriction was not detailed in the ECSR's EuroCOP decision.

In a way, then, the ECSR did find against the State in certain areas, but it equally accepts the fact that members of An Garda Síochána hold a special place. A precedent for this has been set in the context of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, and the Defence Forces themselves. I do not think anyone would suggest we could have members of An Garda Síochána and members of the Defence Forces actively involved in an industrial dispute at the behest of a trade union movement to further the rights, terms and working conditions and pay of either the individuals in those organisations or other workers in some other part of the economy. It simply would not be accepted and would do a grave disservice to the State.

Just as important, it would do a grave disservice to the standing of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. I appreciate that Deputies do not need to give one another history lessons, but I remind the House that An Garda Síochána has served the State exceptionally well. It has been very loyal to the State and, in the main, the State has been very loyal to it in terms of trying to ensure gardaí are protected by the law as they go about their business of ensuring the country functions, the law is upheld and peace is maintained. People may take those sorts of things for granted now, but they were threatened at various times in recent history. The members of the Garda did their duty in that context. Some of them gave their lives in defence of the State. We need to try to find a mechanism for accepting that members of the force will have grievances from time to time, that they are entitled to air those grievances and be listened to, and that there is an obligation on the State to respond to those grievances in a positive way. This Bill has done that. Ultimately, the State and the Government should always hold the entitlement to set pay and conditions in emergency circumstances like those of the past decade.

The members of An Garda Síochána who are being recruited at present deserve good working conditions. There is no doubt that the freeze on promotions and transfers brought about a certain element of despondency for a number of years. The gardaí who get up in the morning and put on their uniforms are proud and passionate about wearing those uniforms. They look forward to going to the workplace, engaging with society, upholding the peace and ensuring we have a lawful and orderly country. We should acknowledge that An Garda Síochána is, by and large, a force that works on structures and order. We need to look at how we can facilitate Garda transfers in very difficult personal circumstances. Members of the force are sometimes posted in areas that are not near their homes, the places where they previously resided or the locations they and their families come from. In recent years, difficulties have been caused by the freeze in transfers that were normally accommodated on a compassionate basis. This led to a great deal of anxiety and disquiet among some members of the force. They were unable to transfer closer to home when their parents or other relatives were ill. We are recruiting gardaí and expanding the force, but the human element must also be taken into account as we try to address the concerns of individuals. I know this cannot always be done. There must be some understanding of the plight of individuals. We have encountered traumatic cases which we have been unable to address through the normal process or through any process. There is no real process other than the internal Garda Síochána process, which is hierarchical. Messages always come from the top down. We should be able to be more imaginative, understanding and compassionate in such cases.

This Bill represents a step in the right direction. It is acknowledging something that needs to be acknowledged. There have been previous cases of industrial action by An Garda Síochána. I do not believe the Garda was well served when services were withdrawn, in effect, in the case of the blue flu. Citizens have huge loyalty to the members of the police force in this country. We are policed by consent rather than by fear. Gardaí are unarmed, by and large, and I hope that remains the case for a long time to come. I hope we do not give in to the pressure that exists across the western world to have a heavily armed police force on the streets. While I understand it is necessary to have armed response units, I believe the presence of the uniform without heavy armoury reflects well on Ireland and Irish society. It encourages the public to support An Garda Síochána and encourages An Garda Síochána to work for the public. It has stood the test of time for the State, the Garda and the people of this country.

The GRA and PDFORRA should give this legislation time to work. The State and the Government should reciprocate that patience so that when grievances arise, gardaí can go to the Workplace Relations Commission and, if necessary, the Labour Court. In such circumstances, a positive response must come from the State and the Government to ensure we have a harmonious police force and defence force. The members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces must be well rewarded for the risks they take daily to maintain peace in other parts of the world. I commend the Bill to the House.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta O'Reilly.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as an deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an mBille seo. This Bill deals mainly with An Garda Síochána. I do not know whether the Minister of State is aware that Deputy Cullinane and I introduced a Bill in this House in April 2017 that would have allowed members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána to be classified as workers in legislation and thereby give them the option of forming trade unions. The purpose of the Bill in question, the Trade Union (Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017, was to allow the representative associations of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to reconstitute themselves as trade unions if they wished. This would have given gardaí and members of the Defence Forces full access to the industrial relations mechanisms of the State while making it illegal, for reasons of public safety and national security, for them to have engaged in strike action. Our Bill recognised the different contexts in which the Garda and the Defence Forces operate and the differing needs of the two organisations. We believe workers in both organisations should be allowed to join trade unions to enable day-to-day employment and industrial issues to be dealt with and to be able to avail of certain actions and mechanisms. We introduced our Bill on foot of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, the increase in industrial action within An Garda Síochána and the continued negative treatment by the State of members of the Defence Forces in terms of pay and conditions. I will return to the latter issue later.

The State's continued ban on trade unions within An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces is in violation of international agreements. It also violates the fundamental rights of people employed in these sectors. The Bill that has been introduced by the Minister of State has a similar, albeit considerably more limited, aim. It seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to allow members of An Garda Síochána and their representative associations to access the State's industrial relations mechanisms, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. I acknowledge that this is a step forward. Gardaí have waited for far too long to be allowed to access the industrial mechanisms of the State. Internal disputes have escalated because no forum has been available to address conflicts at an early stage. Although this legislation is long overdue and is welcome, it falls far short of what was intended when the international courts found in a certain number of cases that police forces, soldiers and defence forces in Ireland and other countries should be able to access the full trade union mechanisms. Sinn Féin believes that members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces should also be allowed to join trade unions if they wish.

Members of the Defence Forces should also be allowed to access the WRC and Labour Court in the same way as the Minister of State has indicated gardaí will under this Bill. Will he clarify whether there is a particular reason members of the Defence Forces are specifically excluded under the Bill? The indication given to me in my discussions with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, was that accommodating their demands was being considered. Obviously, he failed to contact the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, or at least failed to persuade him, given that the legislation before us does not deal with that issue.

We only need think back to last month, 19 September, when several thousand men, women and, in particular, families attended the "Respect and Loyalty" protest outside the gates of Leinster House. The Wives & Partners of the Defence Forces, WPDF, organised that march. Central to it was retired Sergeant Major Noel O'Callaghan. Anyone who met the retired members outside would not need to be persuaded of their loyalty to the State or their pride in the duties they undertook over the years in the Defence Forces. What the people outside were asking for was simple, namely, to be respected, to have their work respected, to change the conditions under which they lived and for someone somewhere to take cognisance of the fact that some of those in the Defence Forces were sleeping in cars and were asked to do duties in the Phoenix Park when the Pope visited in the same month. They get no overtime because it does not exist for them, yet the other arm of the State that was there to protect the dignitary in the Phoenix Park could get overtime. Members of the Defence Forces are expected to sleep in bivouacs and eat canned food all while doing a good job, which they do with pride, yet members of the Garda rightly get the overtime and recognition they deserve.

In many other circumstances down the years, the terms and, in particular, conditions in the Defence Forces have not reached the standard of a modern army or air force. I debated some of these conditions with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, at a committee meeting today. Nowhere else in the Irish workforce would people be expected to put up with poisoning by chemicals as happened in Casement Aerodrome. Nowhere else in the Irish workforce would people have to comply with taking medication that has been deemed by other defence forces to be virtually poisonous as in the case of thousands who have travelled to sub-Saharan Africa to carry out UN duties, a task they have done with pride for years, only to come home with totally changed lives. Any other workers would be allowed to join a trade union, advocate and protest such conditions, but those who are in the Defence Forces are expected to put up with it or get out, as some have been told. That they can like it or lump it and suffer the consequences because they joined the Army and, therefore, there was an entitlement to make them suffer. That seems to be the attitude in some ways. When making a change like the one outlined in this Bill, I see no reason for the Defence Forces not to be extended the same protections afforded to members of the Garda.

In her recent budget announcement, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, allocated an additional €1 million to the WRC and the Labour Court. Despite not having the extra €1 billion that the Government found down the back of the chair two days before the budget, Sinn Féin was able to allocate even more than the Minister's amount in our pre-budget submission. We suggested that €1.4 million would help to alleviate some of the delays at the WRC and Labour Court. We have expressed our concern at those delays. While €1.4 million might not have helped enough people, our information is that, in July of this year, there were 3,140 complaints waiting to be heard in the WRC, with almost half of those waiting for 12 months or longer. In addition, 1,473 cases were waiting for a decision. That is the backlog. We welcome the extension of protections to gardaí, but unless they can reach the mechanisms and have their cases heard quickly, it is not as laudable as suggested. The Minister of State needs to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to check the other chairs in his house. He might find another few million euro stuffed down their backs. The delays are a cause for concern, as many of those who have taken cases and are waiting for them to be heard find it difficult to get alternative work due to their previous employments being under examination. Is the Minister of State satisfied that enough money has been allocated to address the significant delays and provide for the estimated 10% increase in case numbers that this Bill will bring? If its protections were extended to the Defence Forces, that figure could be increased further, possibly by much more.

We intend to table amendments to strengthen the Bill and give effect to the points that I have raised, particularly regarding the Defence Forces. I thank the Minister of State for introducing the Bill. It is a step in the right direction and we will not oppose it, but I will argue strongly on Committee Stage that it needs to do more.

I echo the sentiment expressed by my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, regarding this being a step in the right direction, but it really is just a step and is not what the Garda representative organisations want. They want trade union status, to be represented by a recognised trade union and to have the protections that gives. It is interesting that the people in these buildings who have drafted this legislation have access to a trade union. It is not outrageous to suggest that people should have access to trade union representation.

It was pointed out that members of the Garda and Defence Forces were special and not like other workers. That may be true, but both of the major political parties - we often say that they are in government together - treated them the same as every other worker when cutting their pay. There was no special status accorded to them then. I was a full-time union organiser with SIPTU in 2009 when we joined up with firefighters, prison officers and nurses from other trade unions and members of the Garda.

We would have joined up with the members of the Defence Forces also but that was not permitted. We formed an organisation called the 24/7 alliance. During that time, I had occasion to speak and work closely with members of An Garda Síochána. We teased out the issue of access to industrial relations machinery, what that would mean and how one could ultimately get some value out of it. Around the same time, I had a case before the Labour Court, which I won. The recommendation made by the court entitled the members in question to a small amount of compensation. I could not get the recommendation enforced and I returned to the Labour Court to see if anything could be done. The then chairman of the Labour Court was blunt with me and told me I knew what I could do, which was to get out the ballot box and ballot for industrial action.

In a voluntarist system of industrial relations the journey to the end of the road is a long one. Deputy Ó Snodaigh outlined the wait involved in getting access to the industrial relations machinery but a significant amount of time is spent at local level before one even gets to that point. One then gets to the Workplace Relations Commission, the WRC, which was previously the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, and even sometimes when one wins the case, one must still have recourse to a ballot for industrial action. There are hundreds of thousands of unionised workers in this State and very few days have been lost to strikes. That is a testament to the men and women working in industrial relations, human resources and the WRC. Strikes are very rare.

I stress that Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill as a step in the right direction. However, these workers are to be treated differently from other workers. Another worker who has won a case at the Labour Court but cannot get enforcement of the recommendation has recourse to industrial action. Does the Minister of State have plans to give members of An Garda Síochána and, I hope, members of the Defence Forces, if they are included in the scope of the Bill, the option to take this final step? He said they cannot take industrial action but what option is open to them given that strike action is the last resort? We have not lost many days to strike action for a long time. We hit a peak sometime in the 1970s. I worked in industrial relations for a long time, as did my father, and I have a small amount of knowledge of the issue. Strike action is the last action one will take. When it is taken it is because it is necessary and there is no other avenue. Will consideration be given to ensuring there is a mechanism for enforcement? Other workers have such a mechanism, namely, the withdrawal of their labour.

The refusal to allow members of An Garda Síochána access to a trade union and full trade union status is short-sighted. That is what gardaí want and if it is not provided via this legislation, consideration must be given to how gardaí will be able to use the industrial relations mechanisms. Once members of the Garda have access to the WRC and the Labour Court, how will a recommendation be enforced when a member of the Garda wins a case and reaches the end of the road? Having represented public service workers, I can tell the Minister of State that there is zero appetite on the part of human resource managers to simply accept someone has won a case in the Labour Court and then write the cheque or make the necessary change to conditions. It does not work like that. Some sort of recourse is needed to be able to make good on foot of the recommendations of the Labour Court because in a voluntarist system they are nothing more than recommendations. In the event that the Labour Court makes a recommendation and the members reject it, what happens then? Does the Government simply tell members of An Garda Síochána that it has legislated to give them the right to be unhappy about the outcome of a Labour Court case and they should go on about their business? It is a little pointless if there is nothing at the end of the process to which they can aspire, as they would do if they were members of a trade union.

I do not wish to be overly negative. I say that based on my experience. In 2009, when the threat of pay cuts was very real and we formed the 24/7 alliance, I had lengthy discussions with members of An Garda Síochána and their representatives and full trade union status and access to the third party machinery was certainly what they were seeking at that time. Access to the third party machinery is a welcome step but consideration must be given to what it means in the event that the third party machinery does not deliver or is not capable of delivering for those workers. I remind the Minister of State that when it came to cutting pay, the Government treated these groups the same as every single other worker in the State. It is a little harsh for them to hear that they are special except when it comes to pay cuts.

I also welcome the legislation. While the Labour Party will support the Bill, I also believe it could have gone further. I refer to the EuroCOP v. Ireland ruling which, as we understand, recommended full trade union rights for the Garda Síochána in Ireland and in other parts of Europe as well. While it is welcome that members of the Garda will have access to the WRC and the Labour Court, the aspiration is for them to have full trade union rights. There is an issue around gardaí going on strike but a mechanism could be found to circumscribe that right in some way to enable them to perform the very important duties they have while also having the full right to be in a trade union. It would not be beyond the powers of Government to figure out a way to do that. I am disappointed, therefore, that the Bill has not gone as far as it could have gone or as far as some of the Garda associations would have liked. Nevertheless, it is progress and we should welcome it. I hope it will give members of An Garda Síochána the opportunity to be able to exercise rights in a way they have not been able to do previously.

One of the issues that arose, and it was referred to in the contribution by the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, is that as well as members of the Garda having a role in law enforcement, they also have a role in State security. That is probably one of the impediments to giving them fuller rights. However, we have argued previously in a different context that we should separate the functions of State security and law enforcement, as is the case in many other jurisdictions. That issue should be examined as part of the reform of An Garda Síochána. While it is not a matter for debate today, it should be examined.

All of us appreciate the importance of the role of An Garda Síochána. Despite the many debates in the House about various issues connected with the Garda, there is a great deal of respect for gardaí. People very much appreciate the fact that, by and large, they are unarmed and that they perform a duty in all our communities that is very much respected and regarded by people throughout the country. The fact that, until now, gardaí have not enjoyed the same rights as other workers has caused a great deal of disquiet. This applies also to the Defence Forces, as previous speakers noted, although I acknowledge we are dealing with the Garda Síochána in this debate. I hope this Bill will go some way towards addressing the issues of concern.

I ask specifically about some of the content of the Minister of State's contribution on the working group convened under the independent chair to examine the industrial relations issues in An Garda Síochána. That process is ongoing and the Minister of State indicated the working group is currently analysing, in conjunction with the Garda associations, the detailed operation of the industrial relations processes within An Garda Síochána. He noted also that only the more serious, complex cases are referred to the State's industrial relations bodies for a determination, as is the norm in many workplaces. We need more information on what exactly this, as it were, pre-industrial relations process within An Garda Síochána is likely to be and how much progress the working group has made.

I would like more information on that, either in the Minister of State's response today or as we move through the later stages of the debate. We need clarity in all of this. All of the processes must be very clear to members of the force and members of the public. I hope that all of these issues will be teased out as the Bill progresses.

Generally speaking I welcome this Bill. While it is fairly simple and short, there are many broader issues around it that will continue to be debated. I hope we will have the opportunity to tease them out further as we move on with the Bill. The Labour Party welcomes its publication today and will support the Bill on Second Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018. This Bill is the result of a number of events that led to the Government finally promising legislation to allow An Garda Síochána to have access to the industrial relations machinery of the State, namely, the WRC and the Labour Court. Of course, the need for this legislation was very evident and never more urgent than in November 2016 when the so-called "blue flu" was averted at the last minute. While this Bill is a welcome first step, I agree with my Sinn Féin and Labour Party colleagues that An Garda Síochána, whose members are such an important group of workers in our society, should have full trade union rights.

As always, the work of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service in producing an informative Bill digest is excellent and particular thanks are due to the digest's author, Ms Adele McKenna, from whom I also received a short briefing yesterday. Currently, the conciliation and arbitration scheme is the main industrial relations mechanism for An Garda Síochána. However, according to the aforementioned digest, the scheme remains in place but does not meet very often, if at all. Since the events at the end of 2016, it was agreed that the WRC and the Labour Court would be made available to members of An Garda Síochána on an informal basis until necessary legislation was published and passed. That legislation is, at long last, before us today.

Historically, An Garda Síochána has not been allowed to engage in industrial disputes and to do so would be seen as a breach of discipline under regulation No. 5 of the 2007 Garda Síochána discipline regulations, SI 214/2007. The Industrial Relations Act 1990 and the Garda Síochána Act 2005, about which we had a very lengthy discussion in this House previously, prevent the formation of Garda trade unions and prohibit engagement with umbrella organisations such as ICTU due to possible conflicting demands on the need to police other union protests or the protection of State infrastructure.

In other jurisdictions, such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia, the rights of members of law enforcement bodies to engage in industrial action are restricted. It seems incongruous, at the very least, that the Bill before us would not include full recognition of the rights of gardaí as workers, including the ultimate right, as Deputy O'Reilly so eloquently said, to secure enforcement of the decisions of the Labour Court and the WRC by withdrawing their labour. I do not agree that any worker should be prevented from participating in collective action. In a 2007 paper by Ms Wiebke Warneck about strike rules in the EU 27, the author provides a list of countries, including Croatia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Spain, that restrict the right of their police forces to organise and to pursue industrial action. The security role of all of those police forces is highlighted in the paper. At the same time, this critical group of workers in our society is being denied a right that the rest of us regard as both essential and fundamental.

There are four bodies representing members of An Garda Síochána, comprising the Garda Representative Association, GRA, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, the Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents, AGCS. The GRA is reported to have 10,000 rank and file members but these associations were not invited to take part in the cross-departmental working group on industrial relations structures for An Garda Síochána. They were invited to send in written submissions but it would have been preferable for them to be involved in across-the-table discussions. Preceding the working group, as other Deputies have mentioned, in 2012 the European Confederation of Police, EuroCOP, brought a case against Ireland on behalf of the AGSI to the European Committee of Social Rights, ECSR. The AGSI is a member of EuroCOP and the case was based on the premise that it is a breach of the European Social Charter to deny access to the WRC and the Labour Court. In 2014, the ECSR ruled that Garda associations perform the same duties as trade unions and therefore gardaí do not need to join other trade unions. It also ruled that Garda associations should be allowed to join umbrella union organisations under Article 5, that access to pay negotiations was restricted, breaching Article 6.2, and that gardaí should be allowed to strike under Article 6.4.

The ruling was non-binding but in 2016 Mr. John Horgan, who was previously deputy chairman of the Labour Court, led the Haddington Road agreement review of An Garda Síochána. The Horgan review found that the four Garda associations should become official trade unions and agreed with the ECSR that they be allowed to join national umbrella organisations such as ICTU but that strike action should not be allowed. The working group mentioned previously was established in 2017 and its first report goes against the recommendations of the ECSR and the Horgan report. It did, however, recommend that gardaí be allowed to access the WRC and Labour Court. It is the recommendations of the working group that formed the basis for the Bill before us. The second report of this working group on how industrial relations will operate going forward was due to be completed this time last year but is still outstanding. When will that report be published?

We cannot underestimate the incredibly stressful and difficult working life of members of An Garda Síochána. At a recent meeting of the AGSI, topics discussed included levels of depression and stress suffered by members of the force as well as a range of welfare issues. Disturbingly, it was noted that 12 members had died by suicide between August 2017 and March 2018. We know that there have been morale issues within An Garda Síochána. There has been much discussion and coverage of scandals involving An Garda Síochána, including most recently the Charleton report. It must be remembered that many of the pressures on An Garda Síochána, as with other workers, stem from the savage cuts in pay and conditions that were imposed from 2008. We are talking here about a lost decade. When I questioned the Taoiseach recently about crime levels in our society and referred to the pressures on An Garda Síochána, particularly at community policing level, he referred constantly to 2021 and 2022, when the force will have 21,000 members and ancillary support staff. The existing staff have had to try to deal with very serious anti-social and criminal matters day after day, year after year during this horrendous period. I read an article recently by Mr. Stephen Collins in which he argued that the blanket bank guarantee actually worked. We know, however, from the levels of cuts to our public services, from the disaster that is housing and health and from the 400,000 young people who emigrated that it did not work. Austerity did not work here, no more than it worked in Greece and An Garda Síochána and law enforcement were seriously impacted by it.

In terms of rights of members of An Garda Síochána, the most fundamental is full trade union rights and all that this entails. While I support this legislation as a step along that road, we must be prepared to give gardaí their full rights.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh rightly raised concerns about work levels at the WRC and the Labour Court. A 10% increase, on top of the current backlog of claims sent to the WRC and the Labour Court, is expected, or perhaps an additional 1,500 claims. The representative bodies, the AGSI and the others, state this is a conservative estimate of what the conciliation service will have to face. The Minister of State mentioned that the legislation would commence following the establishment of internal procedures and that referrals could only be sent to the WRC and the Labour Court once these procedures were dealt with. He might come back and tell the House what we are talking about. What are the additional internal procedures? Perhaps the Department and An Garda Síochána have discussed this issue, but it is something of which the House is not aware.

This short Bill amends sections 3 and 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990. The amendments to section 3 add to the definition in section 23 of the 1990 Act of types of worker and will now include members of An Garda Síochána, although it excludes the Garda Commissioner and members of the Garda Reserve. These exclusions are debatable.

Section 4 inserts a sixth Schedule to the 1990 Act. The GRA is not satisfied with the Bill because it does not extend the right to industrial action or classify the GRA as a full trade union.

I welcome the Bill as a step forward. Access was the first step. On behalf of the trade union movement, a far-ranging trade union recognition Bill was introduced in this House almost 20 years ago. I believe profoundly in the right of every worker to trade union representation. At the time we were campaigning for Ryanair to allow trade union recognition. I congratulate the trade union movement on the fact that, at long last, such recognition has been achieved in that company. The Minister of State knows the aviation sector well. Gardaí should have similar rights. That is the bottom line.

I will deal briefly with some of the comments made.

I thank Deputies Billy Kelleher, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Louise O'Reilly and Thomas P. Broughan for their participation in and comments during the debate, to which I have listened attentively. Some of the issues raised will be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh referred to the Defence Forces. The Department of Defence was an active participant in the working group which led to the development of the Bill. There are internal industrial relations procedures in that Department, all of which are under review. I refer the Deputy to the recent report produced by Mr. Gerard Barry who attended the conciliation council for PDFORRA. The report is under consideration by the Defence Forces and the review is ongoing. We should let the Defence Forces continue with their internal procedures. The fact that they were part of the working group should be noted and that they know what has happened here.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly raised the question as to whether the legislation allowed gardaí go on strike. The answer is "No". In Ireland there is no general right for any worker to strike, but trade unions are protected from the consequences of deciding to take strike action in certain circumstances. The Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990 regulate the rules for trade unions and provide for a system of registration of trade unions. In return, trade unions are protected from prosecution for economic torts through the Industrial Relations Act which confers immunity on workers and their representatives if they are acting in contemplation or the furtherance of trade disputes. Any industrial action must be lawful and several preconditions must be met, including that immunities only apply to members and officials of authorised trade unions. If the dispute relates to an industrial worker, any agreed procedure in the workplace, or procedure normally availed of by custom and practice, must be availed of first. If the industrial action or strike is to be supported by a trade union, a secret ballot must be held first. I assure the Deputy that it remains the position that the trade union Acts do not apply to gardaí and that members of the Garda Representative Association are excluded from the protections under the Industrial Relations Acts for persons engaged in industrial actions.

The WRC was mentioned by a number of speakers. I secured extra funding for it in the budget for next year and some of that money will go towards improving premises for the WRC across the country. It is important that it have premises of which people can avail and that people know that they can take their issues to it.

Some of the Deputies present might have attended recent events such as the national ploughing championships and the Tullamore show, at which the WRC had prominent stands for the public to see what it did. Some of the money will be spent for that purpose.

The WRC will also be putting funds into increasing adjudication numbers. I am happy, therefore, to have secured the extra funding in the budget for next year.

The Committee on Social Rights found, in the case of the European Confederation of Police EuroCOP v. Ireland, that the Garda associations could represent their members. On that count Ireland was not found to be in breach, but it was found to be in breach by not allowing gardaí to access the industrial relations machinery of the State. The Bill will rectify that position, which is why it is before the House.

Members of the Garda associations are full members of the working group which is examining the internal Garda dispute procedures. The second phase of the work of the working group is expected to conclude some time next year.

I look forward to working with all of the Deputies and thank them for their interest in the Bill. It is short but important legislation. The reason for it was outlined in my initial contribution. We do not want a repeat of the situation a few years ago when gardaí threatened to go on strike. I look forward to working with all of the Deputies on Committee Stage. Some of them will have amendments to propose which we will go through. Their support for the Bill is important. We will look at other issues on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.