Report reaffirms right to trade union status and unique role

EDITORIAL: The Garda Representative Association received the final Report by John Horgan and is examining the implications in preparation for future negotiations towards new industrial relations mechanisms in the garda sector. The Association had sought such a Review for many years – as the last significant appraisal was held in 1979; and this was negotiated as part of the Haddington Road Agreement and was due to be completed by 1 June 2014 but was subject to inordinate delays.

The status of this Report has yet to be established. While the findings have the potential to modernise garda industrial relations and pay determination, we must also acknowledge that the recent ad hoc involvement of the Workplace Relations Commission and the recommendation of the Labour Court in the recent pay dispute has overtaken much of the original brief. There is a significant body of work still to be done to address those grievances and desires that have been outstanding for several decades, but there is positive movement towards modernising the industrial relations available to us, and to afford gardaí the same civil rights as other workers.

The Horgan Review does note that the number of gardaí has decreased in the last eight years – and this skewed the CSO figures on average garda pay. Overtime for many gardaí has been a necessity for the Force to remain operational. Unfortunately this presents inflated earnings for those working long hours and extra shifts that is not reflective of the national pattern. The findings do acknowledge that overtime was not shared equally across the Force.

To ignore optimum staffing levels makes other pertinent calculations difficult; the level of personal risk experienced by each individual garda, the increased workload and necessary overtime required within an understaffed police force and the impact on health, safety, efficiency and welfare at work. John Horgan does note “An Garda Síochána provides the citizens of Ireland with an excellent police service by any standard…The members of An Garda Síochána perform a difficult and often dangerous job that is unique in Irish society and all its members deserve to be rewarded appropriately.”

The garda pension is in a sense deferred payment for work already done. When members sign up in Templemore their pension entitlement is part of their contract, and they contribute towards it monetarily – and through the risks that they take on behalf of the people of this country. Not only are safety and welfare issues often at the very base of their needs when facing imminent danger of assault or the cumulative physiological effects of rotational shift working – it is the new smoking of occupational hazards. The garda pension has often been curtailed early – with many members succumbing to critical illnesses resulting from occupational hazards. This cannot be quantified but cannot be discounted in any review of the garda pension scheme.

Horgan draws on the ‘unique’ nature of police work and to draw An Garda Síochána into line with modern norms and best practice recommends that the Association should ‘immediately plan to become a registered trade union’. Access to the WRC and Labour Court ‘should not be conditional on that decision’, and makes it clear from this Review that the criminal law and discipline regulations should play no role in industrial relations.

The Association has sought trade union status since 1993; and in the intervening years it has been repeatedly denied. Without the full collective bargaining rights, including the right to withdraw labour, members have been repeatedly abused by the civil power utilising the codes and regulations of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Council of Europe/Eurocop decision has not been addressed officially – and this has clearly stated that gardaí should be afforded the same civil rights as other workers.

We are still awaiting trade union status – with the associated civil rights including full collective bargaining, which includes the freedom to strike. Members are aware of international ideas and the civil, social and industrial rights afforded police officers across Europe, Scandinavia, North America, Australia and New Zealand has demonstrated how far behind Ireland is, and needs to catch up.

“For gardaí to be afforded equal status with other public servants in the upcoming Public Service Pay Commission [PSPC] this must include rights of affiliation and the attendant freedom to withdraw labour.”

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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