A landmark case won by the association representing the country’s frontline Defence Forces is expected to open the floodgates for further claims against the Department of Defence.
PDForra (Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association) took a case to the High Court over members of the Defence Forces being excluded from the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.
The test case was finally settled last Thursday 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, is to get annual leave she lost in 2015. She will also receive an ex-gratia sum in compensation.
PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan said members of the Defence Forces have been unable, as a result of an exclusion clause contained in the Act, to avail of all of the full and ordinary statutory rights and entitlements relating to carryover of unused annual leave, minimum periods of daily rest, maximum weekly working hours, and related workplace rights and benefits. He said PDForra had been fighting for these rights for several years.
“In fact, the basis for this case was lodged as a claim by PDForra in 2013 and the Department of Defence have stonewalled us until last week, when eventually they changed the regulation,” said Mr Guinan.
He said it was now being conceded by the Government that effectively it will not rely on the exclusion clause contained in the legislation and will bring members of the Defence Forces within the scope of the Act, subject to the application of exclusions/derogations permitted by the Working Time Directive.
The Department of Defence can revoke the Working Time Directive for the Defence Forces if there is a national emergency. Mr Guinan said he accepted that.
“It needs to be remembered that these rights are designed to protect the health and safety of workers. There are many more cases where different aspects of the directive are being breached, from our perspective.”
He added that PDForra does not want a situation where its members are being forced to go to court on a continuous basis to vindicate their rights and have hundreds of thousands of euro in taxpayers’ money spent on legal fees and ex-gratia payments, like in this case.
However, he said that 11 more cases are waiting to be processed through the court and as a result of the latest decision he expected the number to now “mushroom”.
PDForra has estimated that its 6,000-plus members lost in the region of 37,000 days’ annual leave in 2016 because they were overstretched and constantly plugging gaps.
Raco, the representative organisation for Defence Forces officers, said it believes its members each lost 9.6 days’ annual leave in the same year.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved