Soldiers, sailors, and airmen, are seeking the ability to take industrial action, up to and including strikes.
PDForra, the organisation which represents 6,800 of the country’s rank-and-file members of the Defence Forces, is investigating legislation under the European Social Charter which it believes may significantly strengthen its hand in wage negotiations.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has already won a European ruling which will allow it to be recognised as a union.
Now, PDForra, which wants to affiliate itself with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is seeking to see how much muscle it could be allowed under the ESC.
The representative association’s general secretary, Gerry Rooney, said the ESC obliges member states to implement a range of social rights and principles.
“The rights promoted by the charter have been brought into sharp focus by the success of a collective complaint by the AGSI regarding such matters as the right to organise and the right to engage in collective bargaining, including collective action,” said Mr Rooney.
His organisation recently wrote to the Department of Defence outlining how it felt the current restrictions on its right to organise and engage in collective bargaining, including collective action, were a violation of articles 5 and 6 of the ESC.
“The main issues to be addressed include the lifting of the restriction on PDForra being a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the efficiency of the current conciliation and arbitration mechanisms, and the mode and extent of collective action,” he said. “Underlying these rights is the complementary right of PDForra, and its individual members to freedom of assembly and speech.
“If I can take the last right, that of freedom of speech, as an example, I can give you an idea of how badly our rights have been restricted.”
Mr Rooney said that, in the past few years, various media organisations had been conducting comparisons of how the pay cuts and the pension-related deductions had impacted on the earnings of various public servants such as nurses, prison officers and soldiers.
“While the programmes were aired in regard to the earnings of nurses, prison officers, and others, nothing was aired regarding any member of the Defence Forces,” he said. “This was because no member of the Permanent Defence Force can make any statement in the media regarding his or her pay.”
Mr Rooney said this was “scandalous treatment”, as allowing PDForra members to air their views would not threaten State security.
“The real reason for the restriction on the right to free speech regarding the pay and conditions of soldiers, sailors and aircrew is to give the Government an advantage in negotiations,” Mr Rooney said.
He said he was calling on Minister for Defence Simon Coveney to let PDForra know what his thinking was on the freedom of speech and right of assembly. “We hold the view that the minister should use this opportunity to immediately instruct his officials to start work with PDForra, to ensure the rights of free speech and free assembly are fully realised in the defence sector,” Mr Rooney said.
PDForra president Mark Scally said his members were pursuing their rights because they were no longer prepared “to take crumbs from the table”.
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