Ictu link to Army representative body ‘has security implications’

Military leaders fear strikes as Congress set to consider application by PDforra

Army leadership is concerned at the possibility of a withdrawal of labour by members of the Defence Forces if a bond with  trade unions is forged. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Army leadership is concerned at the possibility of a withdrawal of labour by members of the Defence Forces if a bond with trade unions is forged. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

The head of the Defence Forces has told the Government that permitting military representative bodies to become part of the trade union movement could jeopardise national security.

The Irish Times understands that Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett has, in a letter to the Government, set out his opposition to an attempt by the representative organisation for enlisted personnel, PDforra, to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).

In the letter sent to both Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Leo Varadkar and Minister of State with responsibility for defence Paul Kehoe, Vice-Admiral Mellett said the move would have “potential implications for the security of the State”.

It is understood the military leadership is particularly concerned at the possibility of a withdrawal of labour by members of the Defence Forces in the future if a link-up with the trade union movement goes ahead.

The leadership of Ictu is scheduled to consider the application by PDforra (Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association) at a meeting next Wednesday.

Informed sources said that PDforra had sought associate affiliation with Ictu earlier in the summer, and that the military representative body wanted to be involved when Ictu’s public service committee was negotiating future agreements on pay with the Government.

Right to strike

Sources said the association had indicated it was not interested in securing a right to strike.

In recent public service pay talks, the Government negotiated mainly with the public service committee of Ictu which represented affiliated organisations and held parallel negotiations with military and Garda bodies. Many in the Defence Forces believe they did not do as well in these processes as other public service groups.

A spokesman for Mr Kehoe said on Friday he was exploring the idea of PDforra affiliating with Ictu.

“The Minister does not intend to comment on internal and confidential correspondence between him and the chief of staff of the Defence Forces.”

“There has been engagement between the Department of Defence and Ictu, regarding the feasibility of affiliation/association.

“The Minister looks forward to further engagement by the department, while acknowledging the need to consider the implications of any future decision around affiliation/association.”

The representative body for commissioned officers in the Defence Forces, Raco, has not sought to affiliate with Ictu and set out strong concerns about any such a link-up in a letter to Mr Kehoe earlier this month.

Military service

The Irish Times understands that Raco said in its letter to the Minister that its members believed trade unionism, including the right to take industrial action, was incompatible with military service.

Rather than linking up with trade unions to deal with pay negotiations, Raco has urged the Government to establish an independent, standing Defence Force pay review body which would assess remuneration for personnel in the light of what it described as the unique nature of military service.

Raco said the reasons it believed trade union links were incompatible with military service included the maintenance of the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces and military discipline, maintenance of national security and the potential for involvement in activism and protest movements.

In a non-binding ruling, in 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that Ireland was not in breach of the European Social Charter in respect of the ban on military personnel going on strike but was in violation of the charter in respect of the right to organise, to affiliate to certain organisations and the right to negotiate collective agreements.

Subsequently, a review of the military industrial relations system recommended last year that Government representatives should engage with Ictu to explore the practicalities of a military body becoming affiliated or associated with the umbrella organisation for the trade union movement.