Military officers’ group to debate trade union affiliation

Forum will also consider response to allegations in Women of Honour documentary

Raco represents about 1,200 Army, Naval Service and Air Corps officers. Photograph: Getty Images

Raco represents about 1,200 Army, Naval Service and Air Corps officers. Photograph: Getty Images

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The group representing commissioned officers in the Defence Forces is to consider whether it should affiliate itself with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

If the motion passes at the biennial conference of the Representative Associate for Commissioned Officers’ (Raco) today, it would be a reversal of the group’s previous position which opposed Ictu affiliation on the basis it could weaken the Defence Forces.

Raco, which represents about 1,200 Army, Naval Service and Air Corps officers, said the current system for dealing with industrial relations matters in the Defence Forces, the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme, was “failing”.

It also cited “growing frustration around the lack of action by defence management and Government to persistent issues within the [Defence Forces]”.

Members are to be asked at the conference in Naas, Co Kildare, if it is “time for a new approach” for the body.

“It is intended that delegates will debate and positively develop the association’s stance and policy in this area,” a Raco document states.

Raco previously said it believed trade unionism was incompatible with military service, and expressed concern about the implications for military discipline, maintenance of national security and the potential for involvement in activism and protest movements.

Permission

By law Defence Forces representative associations cannot affiliate with Ictu without the permission of the Minister for Defence.

If Raco decides to seek affiliation with Ictu, it will be following in the footsteps of PdForra, which represents enlisted personnel.

PdForra sought Ictu affiliation in 2019 following a case it took against the government to the Council of Europe Committee on Social Rights. In a non-binding ruling the committee said PdForra should have trade union rights, including the right to participate in public pay agreements, but not the right to go on strike.

The government and senior military leadership have traditionally opposed granting increased trade union rights, including Ictu membership, to Defence Forces personnel. Officials fear it could make it difficult to deploy the Defence Forces to plug a gap in an essential service caused by another Ictu member union going on strike.

In 2019 then Chief-of-Staff Mark Mellett warned the government in a letter that the move would have “potential implications for the security of the State”.

The recent Women of Honour documentary on RTÉ which detailed allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination against female Defence Forces members will also be discussed at Raco’s two-day conference.

It will vote on a motion to ask military management to “establish a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence at work, including verbal and/or physical abuse, and prevent sexual harassment”.

Opportunities

Members will also vote on a motion to promote professional development opportunities for female officers.

“In order to ensure that there is equal access to all military education and training, the Defence Forces should provide equal opportunities for formal and informal networking and mentoring; articulate the Defence Forces’ case for women’s empowerment; and the positive impact of inclusion for men as well as women,” the motion states.

It will also debate Raco’s internal response and structures in relation to the matters contained in the documentary to ensure women are adequately represented.

The ongoing Defence Forces recruitment and retention crisis will also be discussed.

The establishment strength of the Defence Forces is 9,500. At the time of Raco’s last general meeting in 2019 there were 8,653, a figure which has now dropped to 8,504.