In a report published a number of months ago, the Garda Inspectorate was highly critical of the existing roster arrangements in place for gardaí.
It said the system introduced in 2012 was inefficient and left too many officers on duty at unsuitable times.
It concluded the current arrangement had negatively impacted on the operational deployment of Garda resources, and that it should be replaced with multiple rosters and work schedules that matched the various policing demands.
However, a crucial issue for Garda representative organisations is that remuneration for their members is based, to a considerable degree, on allowances paid as compensation for night and weekend duties.
Changes to rosters could impact on gardaí qualifying for these allowances and could hit their overall earnings.
Unsocial hour allowances
Over recent months, Garda management and representative associations have held talks on a revised roster which is currently out to ballot.
However, the Department of Justice told a review currently examining An Garda Síochána that the scope for making amendments to the existing roster was limited due, among other issues, “to the need to avoid any reduction in unsocial- hours allowances”.
For gardaí, sergeants and many inspectors, the unsocial hours payments involve double the basic rate for working on Sundays and on public holidays, as well as time and a quarter for night duty from 8pm to 8am, and time and a sixth for night duty from 6pm to 8pm.
The department has, in essence, proposed these allowances for unsocial hours should be replaced by a proposed “shift pay” arrangement which could wrap up all of these allowances into a single payment.
It maintained this could facilitate the development of more flexibility in rosters and give management greater scope in deploying manpower to meet policing demands.
The department also maintained that such a move could deliver significant savings on the existing Garda overtime bill which, in 2014, ran to €38 million. It has also suggested a rationalisation of other allowances.
However, much of this will cause alarm among representative bodies.
Garda Representative Association
(GRA) has already warned members taking part in the current ballot on the proposed new changes that rosters must be kept totally separate from pay.
The Garda bodies have been campaigning for some time on the issue of pay for their members and have put some considerable store in the outcome of the forthcoming review of pay and conditions.
The GRA, which represents rank-and-file gardaí, has called for the next government to immediately reinstate the terms and conditions that were in place in 2008 prior to the cuts imposed after the economic crash.
It has also called for a police service allowance to be introduced as part of the new pay review.
All of these demands would involve the provision of additional money on top of the existing Garda pay budget, which stood at just under €800 million in 2014.
However, the department has effectively argued that this review should not involve the provision of any additional exchequer resources and all recommendations should be cost- neutral.