Defence Forces officers vote to affiliate with trade union body

If approved by Government, the decision will allow Raco to participate in public pay talks

The group representing commissioned officers in the Defence Forces has voted overwhelmingly to affiliate itself with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) has traditionally been opposed to affiliating with the trade unit movement due to concerns about the implications for military discipline, maintenance of national security and the potential for involvement in activism and protest movements.

The reversal of that stance represents increasing frustration with pay and conditions within the Defence Forces and a lack of confidence in Government to address them.

"Three successive rounds of pay talks have seen our members marginalised and excluded from fair process as a result of our weakened industrial relations status," said Raco general secretary Comdt Conor King.

“Members have lost faith in the ability of the parallel process to recognise and compensate for the unique restrictions of Defence Forces service. This, coupled with the deliberate weakening of the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme by the official side, has resulted in our members seeking a new approach to pay negotiations.”

Of Raco’s 1,200 members, which include all officer ranks between lieutenant and colonel, 85 per cent have voted to seek Ictu affiliation.

They joined the members of PdForra, which represents enlisted personnel, who voted to seek Ictu affiliation in 2019 following a case it took against the Government to the Europe Committee of 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.

Negotiating power

Under the Defence Amendment Act (1990) both organisations will have to receive permission of Minister for Defence Simon Coveney before affiliation can take place.

Raco hopes Ictu affiliation will boast its negotiating power during the next round of public pay talks

"Associating with Ictu could mean that the next time our members vote on a pay deal, their representatives will at least have been involved in the design and detail of the agreement, with their specific concerns recognised and included. Up to now, this hasn't been the case," said acting president Brian Coughlan.

The association's deputy general secretary, Derek Priestley, said it is still the position that Defence Forces personnel will never go on strike or take industrial action but that "this loyalty should not be exploited".

Ictu previously told the Commission on the Defence Forces that while Defence Forces members benefit from the results of a public sector pay process, they cannot participate in any meaningful way.

Ictu has amended its rules to allow military representative organisations to associate with the congress without compelling them to take industrial action.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times