Gardai settle action over right to take work breaks

Cabinet to remove blanket exclusion of force from EU directive on hours, High Court told

Gardai will no longer be excluded from the EU Working Time Directive, which states workers should be  entitled to take a break if their shift exceeds six hours.  Photograph: Frank Miller

Gardai will no longer be excluded from the EU Working Time Directive, which states workers should be entitled to take a break if their shift exceeds six hours. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

A legal action by two gardai has been resolved following a Cabinet commitment to remove the blanket exclusion of members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces from an EU Directive on working hours.

The proposed changes come after the High Court was told of the settlement of a challenge by two gardaí over the exclusion, via the Working Time Act, of members of the force from the benefit of the EU Working Time Directive.

The Directive, brought in for health and safety reasons, recognises the need for rest periods during working hours as a basic right in the EU. When a working day is more than six hours, it provides every worker is entitled to rest breaks.

Two Limerick city-based gardaí, John Gaine and Pádraig Harrington, brought the case over working eight-hour shifts, without any breaks, while on witness protection duty between October 2010 and January 2011.

The case was due for hearing last October but did not proceed then after the High Court was told the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, had informed lawyers representing the two gardaí she was bringing a Bill to cabinet applying the terms of the Working Time Directive to the Garda.

When the matter was mentioned before the High Court on Wednesday, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan was told the case could be struck out.

Afterwards, Elizabeth Hughes, of Hughes Murphy Solicitors, representing both gardaí, welcomed the resolution of the action.

Ms Hughes said the Minister recently informed her clients that the Cabinet had approved heads of a new bill believed to remove the blanket exclusion of gardaí and members of the Defence Forces from the Working Time Act subject to derogations permissible by law under the Working Time Directive.

In their action, both gardaí claimed they got neither a rest break nor a meal break and were not paid overtime payments for the times they should have been allowed such breaks.

While the Working Time Directive had been transcribed into Irish law, the enactment of Section 3 of the Working Time Act meant the Directive did not apply to either the Garda or the Defence Forces, they claimed.

Their “blanket exclusion” meant the Directive had not been properly transposed into Irish law and they had been denied its protections, causing them loss and inconvenience.

In their action against the Garda Commissioner and State, the two gardaí wanted the court to declare that the Section of the 1997 Act excluding gardaí from the scope of the Directive breached both the Directive and the Garda Síochána code. They also sought damages.

The case did not proceed when the Minister, after obtaining a clarification from the Court of Justice of the EU, said amending legislation would be introduced to bring Irish law into line with the rulings of the EU court.