Garda bodies unlikely to be happy with a process they felt excluded from
Analysis: a working group estabished by the Government said the law should remain
The working group specifically said Garda organisations should not become trade unions and gardaí should not be permitted to take industrial action. Photograph: Colin Keegan /Collins Dublin.
Just before Christmas last year in the aftermath of a narrowly- averted strike by gardaí over pay, the Cabinet of then taoiseach Enda Kenny gave approval for legislation which would allow members of the force access to the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court in future to deal with disputes.
In political and industrial relations terms this was in many ways the easy thing to do. As the then minister for justice told the Dáil subsequently: “important and complex” issues remained to be resolved.
Chief among these were should the Garda representative bodies be permitted to become trade unions, perhaps affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions? More crucially, should gardaí be given the right to take industrial action or go on strike?
Given the controversy surrounding the planned industrial action by gardaí last November - which had led to allegations of a mutiny - this was a very sensitive issue.
The Government established a working group comprising representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Business and Garda management to look at these questions as well as, essentially, to examine the mechanics of implementing the Cabinet decision of allowing the Garda organisations to have access to the State’s disputes resolution machinery.
The Garda bodies were not happy with this development.
While they could make submissions, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors complained it was being side-lined while the plan was drawn up by senior civil servants and top Garda managers.
The Garda organisations may be more disappointed on Tuesday when the recommendations of the working group are discussed by Ministers.
The working group specifically said Garda organisations should not become trade unions and gardaí should not be permitted to take industrial action.
The report also suggested the establishment of a separate special commission to examine Garda pay should be ruled out.
The working group said if the Garda representative bodies had trade union status, it would “generate conflicts with the ability of gardaí to carry out policing duties, particularly in relation to the policing of protests or trade disputes by unions or with regard to affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions”.
The report said the two main Garda bodies, the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, had consistently sought trade union status while the Irish Congress of Trade Unions opposed strongly allowing any organisation that was not a trade union access to the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court.
“However, the working group is clear that there is no requirement for trade union status and that the associations have ( or can be given by legislation) all the attributes needed to represent their members, to gain access to the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court and to take an equal part in negotiations on pay and conditions. The group also considers that Ictu’s concerns can be overcome if the Garda associations are allowed access only by way of specific legislative amendments, as is proposed.”
The working group also recommended to the Government that gardaí should continue to be constrained from withdrawing their labour in any strike action.
“At the same time every effort should be made to identify and agree processes that will eliminate recourse to ‘lower level ‘ industrial action and/or reduce the impact of such industrial action on the most essential services provided by An Garda Siochana.
“The working group considers that, having recourse to all the factors including:
*the unitary nature of An Garda Siochana , having responsibility not only for policing but also for national security and border control
*the fundamental ethos of An Garda Siochana , as a force based on discipline
to allow industrial action would have a significantly disruptive impact on Garda morale and effectiveness.”
The group said that by providing access to Workplace Relations Commission and to pay negotiations as well as by establishing robust internal industrial relations mechanisms, Garda associations would have the same level of access to the State industrial relations mechanisms as other public service staff bodies.
The working group also urged that Garda pay should be determined by allowing representative bodies access to pay talks and to the Public Service Pay Commission in the same way as other public service groups.
It said a stand-alone Garda Pay Commission, as sought by Garda representative associations , would “not be in keeping with public service pay policy” and that there was no indication that this would deliver different outcomes to the existing Public Service Pay Commission”.