Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to commend this Bill to the Seanad. It is being brought forward as a result of a commitment given by the Government as part of the resolution of a dispute within An Garda Síochána. Following complex negotiations at the Labour Court in November 2016, resolution was found to a potentially very serious dispute within An Garda Síochána and, as part of this resolution, a commitment was given by the Government to provide the Garda associations with access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. The Government agreed to the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to provide access by the Garda associations to the WRC and the Labour Court. A high-level cross-departmental working group comprising representatives from the Departments of the Taoiseach, Justice and Equality, Public Expenditure and Reform, Defence, and Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and representatives from Garda management and the Workplace Relations Commission was set up to progress the issues identified by the Government.

Two subgroups were established under the main working group. The first subgroup on legislation aimed to progress the Bill, which included amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. A second subgroup examined industrial relations structures within An Garda Síochána that aided in the resolution of internal disputes, and identified and agreed procedures to provide access to the WRC and the Labour Court. My Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel actively engaged in drafting the Bill in discussion with other relevant Departments, namely, the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. All the Garda associations have been full members of phase 2 of the work of the subgroup and have been actively engaged in deliberations on the current proposals for amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Some of the associations, in particular the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, have expressed disappointment with the decision of the Government to rule out trade union status, to refuse members the right to strike and to refuse to set up a separate pay commission for members of An Garda Síochána. The Bill also forms part of the ambitious four-year plan for the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Accordingly, this Bill recognises that the Garda Commissioner as the employer, instead of the Department of Justice and Equality, has the lead responsibility in engaging in discussions on pay and conditions for the purposes of the Bill. The legislation will be subject to a commencement order and will not come into effect until robust internal dispute resolution procedures are in place within An Garda Síochána.

There have been some calls during the passage of this Bill for the inclusion of the Defence Forces and there was strong input in this regard on Second Stage. However, while policy concerning the Defence Forces is a matter for the Minister for Defence, I understand that members of the Defence Forces have a range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations on their access to the normal industrial relations machinery that applies in wider society. This includes a statutory redress of wrongs process, an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Defence Forces representative associations, and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

Furthermore, I understand that only last year, the Department of Defence completed an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. The review contains several recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of the scheme. It is noteworthy that the review did not recommend that the Defence Forces representative associations be provided with access to the WRC and the Labour Court. Instead, the reviewer recommended that the revised scheme should be reviewed after a three-year period, as this would afford the parties an opportunity to assess the scheme's performance. It is appropriate that this time be allowed to assess the operation of the revised scheme. It is not intended to make any legislative amendment that will pre-empt the outcome of the review of the revised scheme, due to take place in 2021.

I will now outline the main provisions of this short Bill, which contains five sections. Section 1 provides for the insertion of a number of definitions in the principal Act, 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 the Garda Síochána, "Garda Síochána" and "Garda Commissioner". Section 3 provides for the amendment of section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990, which deals with the definition of a number of terms used generally in the context of industrial relations legislation, including the definition of a "worker", which in 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 the Garda Síochána, the Bill provides that a "worker" includes a member of the 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 sets out the provisions of the various industrial relations enactments that are being actively disapplied in the context of this Act. These provisions will form a new schedule to the principal Act of 1990 and will include provisions relating to trade union law and the right to collective bargaining under sectoral employment instruments such as the employment regulation orders and the sectoral employment orders. Section 5 relates to the Short Title, collective citation and commencement.

I look forward to hearing the Senators' views and to working with them to progress this important legislation. I am proud to commend the Bill to the Seanad this afternoon.

I will not delay the House. I appreciate the Minister of State being here today. Fianna Fáil is delighted to give this Bill its full support today.

I have already brought up with the Minister of State a couple of issues that relate to the Bill and he has worked tirelessly to try to accommodate all parties. As he mentioned, it is disappointing that soldiers, in particular newer soldiers, feel such discrimination around pay and wages. The industrial relations machinery does not seem to be in place to fix this wrong. That is a serious concern, as the Minister of State is aware. We are happy to support the Bill in principle but perhaps the Minister of State can work further on this issue.

The Minister of State is welcome to the House, as is the Bill. I have spoken to the various associations and they are satisfied that although it does not do everything they seek, they do not want the Bill impeded in any way and would like to see it go through.

The Minister of State will know that in an industrial dispute, we came very close to what was termed a "blue flu". It would be a sad day for Ireland if members of the Garda Síochána pulled their services over any industrial relations issue. It is good that we are now putting a mechanism in place whereby, like any other workers, its members have access to the labour relations machinery of the State and can bring their grievances there to be adjudicated by independent bodies. It is an extremely important and bold move by the Government to allow that. Since the foundation of the State, members of the Garda have not had that available to them.

The position of members of the Garda with respect to future negotiations, which also is that of one of the Defence Forces groups, is that there should be an independent pay commission outside the Public Service Pay Commission. The Public Service Pay Commission deals with everything from teachers to nurses and from civil servants to clerks in local authorities. We have to agree that people in this country who wear a uniform do a very different job from anybody else in the State and that they cannot be encompassed by the normal national negotiations. For that reason alone, I support having a separate mechanism. For example, some uniformed people feel that the public services group of ICTU would not suit their needs. They want a separate group, similar to what exists in the UK, where a pay commission looks annually at the army, air force and navy. While that commission never exceeds the percentage terms of the national pay agreement, there is some degree of flexibility around allowances, special payments and so on.

I have one difficulty that goes back to before the Minister of State's time, so I hope he will not take it personally.

I have a difficulty with an arbitrated agreement such as the one with the Army Ranger Wing that I mentioned this morning. In 2010, members of the Army Ranger Wing took a case for arbitration. They were awarded an increase of between €50 and €60 a week and it was backdated to 2006. The award was made at the height of the recession and economic collapse, yet the arbitrator saw the claim as something that he should recommend. To date, it has not been paid and about €35,000 is due to be paid to every single serving member of the Army Ranger wing. It is pretty sad that we have not looked after that.

In providing access to the Labour Court and the WRC for members of An Garda Síochána, we should have gone the whole hog and included the Defence Forces. I understand what the Minister of State has said but we will revisit this matter at some stage in the future. The members of the Defence Forces, like anybody else in this country, are workers. The Chief of Staff should be the line manager for all members of the Defence Forces and there should be a resolution process under the State's industrial relations procedures and mechanisms.

The conciliation and arbitration system is under review and I await the outcome of that. It is something that needs a drastic review. When I was president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, conciliation and arbitration was one of the mechanisms for resolving disputes but we were also a trade union in our own right and reserved the right to withdraw labour, like any trade union. Clearly, with gardaí and soldiers, the withdrawal of labour would be an extremely severe step and I am not sure that any of the associations would want that. I could go around the houses on this issue all day but I am not going to do so. The Minister of State has brought forward legislation and taken in one aspect of those in uniform. It is a pity that the legislation does not meet the full needs of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Association of Garda Superintendents but the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, is happy enough. I commend the Minister of State on bringing the legislation here and look forward to seeing the Bill enjoy a speedy passage. I hope it will be signed off before the summer break. I hope to see the two stages come together the next time.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this important Bill and it delivers on a commitment that the Government gave to Garda members. It is worth remembering that there are 16,990 members of the Garda, of which 14,032 are in uniform, 2,480 are civilians and 528 are in the reserve. These men and women protect us every day and put their lives on the line. It was, as others have said, very unfortunate that they felt they would have to engage in a so-called blue flu to achieve reasonable rates of pay and address their issues that had become intolerable from their point of view. I welcome the fact they now has access to the Labour Court, the WRC and all of the available industrial relations mechanisms. Obviously, State security forces cannot go on strike - State security cannot allow that - but we must show that we appreciate the very special job that members of the force do and the very dangerous risks that they take daily. Every time they respond to a call, they do not know what they will face, but they do so to protect each one of us. These people are due our highest regard as I know the Government and Minister have for them. I welcome the Bill and commend it to the House.

I thank the Minister of State for attending the Seanad to discuss this Bill. As he will recall, during this Bill's progression in the Dáil, Sinn Féin referenced its Trade Union (Garda Síochána and Defence Forces) Bill 2017 in the debate. Our Bill, if enacted, would allow members of the Irish Defence Forces and of An Garda Síochána to be classified as workers in legislation and give them the option to form trade unions. This would give them full access to the State's industrial relations mechanisms while making it illegal for An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to engage in strike action for reasons of public safety and national security. 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 Force in terms of pay and conditions were all reasons we introduced our Bill. The continued ban in this State on trade unions within An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces is in violation of international agreements and the fundamental rights of those employed in those sectors. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018 has a similar aim, albeit considerably more limited, to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to allow just members of An Garda Síochána and their representative associations to access the State's industrial relations mechanisms, namely, the WRC and the Labour Court. Gardaí have waited too long to be allowed access to the industrial relations mechanisms of the State resulting in internal disputes escalating due to no forum being available to address conflicts at an early stage. Therefore, although this move is long overdue, it is very welcome.

My party also believes that members of the Garda and the Defence Forces should also be allowed to join a trade union, if they wish. Members of the Defence Forces should also be allowed to access the WRC and Labour Court in the same way that gardaí will be permitted under this Bill. Although these changes for members of An Garda Síochána are welcome, they are far more limited than what Sinn Féin had previously proposed. Therefore, we intend to bring forward amendments at a later stage to help strengthen the rights of gardaí and members of the Defence Forces.

We take this opportunity to express again our concern about the backlog of cases in the WRC. Information received by my party shows that in July 2018, there were 3,140 complaints waiting to be heard in the WRC with almost half of them waiting 12 months or more. In addition, 1,473 cases were waiting for a decision. These existing delays are a cause for concern as many of these people find it difficult to find alternative work while waiting for their cases to be heard due to their previous employment being under examination. This Bill will give gardaí access to the WRC, which of course is welcome, but undoubtedly it will add to these waiting lists. I ask the Minister of State to outline in his reply how he plans to deal with this.

On Report and Final States in the Dáil my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, tabled an amendment that was ruled out of order. His amendment sought to change the definition of the worker, contained in section 8 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990, by deleting the words "but does not include a member of the Defence Forces or of the Garda Síochána". We believe both members of the Garda and the Defence Forces should be treated as employees when it comes to industrial relations issues. They should have access to the WRC to ensure they have a venue to bring employment related concerns and complaints. Perhaps the Minister of State could expand on why members of the Defence Forces have been actively excluded from this legislation. Why does he and the Government believe that members of the Defence Forces should not have access to the WRC?

We intend to bring forward amendments to strengthen this Bill, as we did in the Dáil. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill forward as it is a step in the right direction and, therefore, we will support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will speak about An Garda Síochána in the context of these matters. I acknowledge that some Garda associations have expressed disappointment with the decision made by the Government not to extend trade union status to them, but the Minister has made it clear that there are serious issues with national security and the special relationship that An Garda Síochána has within this State. As Senator Reilly has said, we value them. However, words are easy to say and I do not doubt the commitment of the Minister of State. Yes, we value gardaí and yes, people want to give them fair access to industrial relations, etc. but there are security of State issues, which all speakers here have acknowledged, and that is important.

What can we say about the Bill?

The Bill would give An Garda Síochána access to the Labour Court and the WRC, which is positive progress that should be acknowledged. There were unprecedented threats of withdrawal of labour by An Garda Síochána in the past that were of concern to the Government. The Government took them on board and has now come back with a commitment to give members of the Garda permanent access to the WRC and the Labour Court, which must be acknowledged as a positive first step.

It is important when talking about An Garda Síochána or any other organisation with respect to industrial relations that there are strong and robust internal systems to deal with grievances. The first place grievances should be dealt with is in the workplace or organisation, and the process always needs to be improved in every organisation. I have heard of experiences and read in the media about issues in the Garda Síochána over the past number of years but these are an internal matter for the Garda Commissioner and his staff. I take this opportunity in the House to say there are industrial dispute mechanisms and resolution capacity within the Garda Síochána in the first instance. This is positive legislation and I personally commit to supporting it.

I thank Members for their contributions in the House this afternoon. I also thank them for their invaluable support in getting the Bill passed through the House and I hope we will be in a position next week to progress the Bill and get it passed before the summer recess.

A number of Senators expressed concern that the Defence Forces were not included in the Bill but it is quite obvious why they were not included. I remind Senators of the ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights in 2017 that Ireland was not in violation of the European Social Charter in respect of the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike. In a non-binding ruling, the European Committee on Social Rights made that conclusion, and it is important to point it out today. I outlined to Members earlier the range of parallel complaint and adjudication mechanisms in law to compensate for the limitations in access to normal industrial relations machinery, and they include statutory redress of wrongs process, an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, which is really important, Defence Forces representative associations and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

As I stated earlier, an independent review was done on the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Defence Forces. That report recommended that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of the Permanent Defence Force representative association forming affiliations with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service. I understand the matter is being progressed and dialogue has commenced between the Department of Defence and ICTU. We need to give that review process some time. I ask Senators to allow the process to happen, although we are all conscious of the important work done by the Defence Forces.

The reason Garda associations cannot bring about a strike is very simple. Ireland is unique as we only have one police force, as in many other countries there could be two, three or four different groups for dealing with traffic and other policing sectors. Were the Garda Síochána to go on strike, there would be awful security issues, including the security of the State etc. It should be acknowledged that members of the Garda are very different and they are not like ordinary workers. The current Bill facilitates access for members of An Garda Síochána to the WRC and Labour Court. Having full access to the WRC and the Labour Court is important for anybody but for the Garda Síochána it is even more important.

I am the Minister of State with responsibility for the Labour Court and the WRC and I have seen the great work done there in speeding up the process where issues exist. The WRC now has offices all over the country, including in Sligo, Cork, Dublin and Shannon. It will shortly open a new office in Ennis for the western division. People will be able to walk in off the street and meet WRC personnel. It is very much an organisation that is available to workers and it has maintained a very good track record of dealing with industrial disputes over the two years since I took office. It is the State's industrial relations machinery for resolving these disputes.

Senator Mac Lochlainn spoke about additional resources and €1 million was allocated to the WRC in the budget this year to deal with its extra requirements, particularly as the Garda Síochána now has access to the WRC. That €1 million will go towards extra personnel and resources. Some cases are delayed in the WRC because many are complex and take time to deal with. That is often outside the control of the WRC. On average, I understand cases are referred to adjudication and dealt with within six months. Conciliation services are very responsive and parties have access to that where necessary. There have been many improvements but the WRC is a new body and time must be given to bed in. From what I have seen of the WRC so far, it is very hands-on and it has really good personnel. Its inspectors understand the issues very well. We are lucky to have such good industrial relations machinery in the State at this time.

I thank all the Members for their contributions this afternoon. This is a very important Bill and I am very anxious for it to be finalised before the summer recess. Every effort will be made, both by my Department and the staff in the Seanad, to ensure we can get that done.

I will make a quick comment, if I may.

We had some efficient arrangements.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for introducing the Bill, which Fianna Fáil is backing 100%. We are showing our respect and support for An Garda Síochána in this Bill. I ask the Minister of State to bring it through the House without delay.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 25 June 2019.
Sitting suspended at 1.18 p.m. and resumed at 1.45 p.m.