Defence Forces representative associations are starting to win a battle over implementing the EU Working Time Directive in their ranks.
A successful legal action by PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, and the threat of more, allied to the officers' association (RACO) claims that many of them are working 70 hours-plus a week has brought their management to the table for talks.
RACO general secretary Comdt Conor King said that following extensive negotiations with military leadership and the Department of Defence, it has been decided by Defence Forces management to adopt a series of 'Accelerated Provisions' as a first measure in implementing this health and safety legislation.
From now on all personnel will be afforded a guaranteed rest day following the completion of a 24-hour duty in barracks.
"The practice of returning to one's place of work following a 24-hour duty is to cease. Following a duty conducted on a Saturday or a Sunday, a day in lieu will be applied to the day immediately following the rest day.
"This means that a for a Saturday duty, the following Monday is afforded as a day in lieu, and the current practice of a day in lieu on the Tuesday following the Sunday duty will continue," Comdt King said.
A directive on the new provisions has been issued by the Defence Forces General Staff to all senior officers and both representative associations have issued copies to their members.
The move has also been welcomed by PDForra, which last year won a landmark test case against the Department of Defence for breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.
It was settled on the steps of the High Court after negotiations between PDForra’s legal representatives and representatives of the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe.
As a result, Susan O’Donnell, a member of the army, got annual leave she lost in 2015 and an ex-gratia sum in compensation.
However, achieving even more adherence to the Working Time Directive could be difficult, especially as currently the Defence Forces are seriously undermanned.
The minimum strength, known as the 'establishment strength' for the Defence Forces to function properly is decreed as 9,500. It is nearly 1,000 short of that mark.
A RACO survey highlighted shortages of officers in the Defence Forces, resulting in bomb disposal experts and marine engineers having to work 70 and 65 hours a week respectively, without any overtime.
Many officers reported double and treble-jobbing to plug gaps caused by the exodus of personnel for better paid, private sector jobs.
Germany, Britain and Sweden have already implemented the Working Time Directive for their armed forces and the government has done likewise for gardaí.