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.