An employment law expert has criticised the findings of the Government body which recommended against granting Garda associations the right to take industrial action or to be considered as trade unions.
The report of the Garda Industrial Relations Working Group, which did recommend that Garda associations be allowed engage in future pay talks and be given access to industrial relations mechanisms, was accepted by the Cabinet last Tuesday.
The group was comprised of senior civil servants and Garda management, but did not include Garda associations, legal experts or the Policing Authority.
“I disagree with the report’s central findings for many reasons; primarily because the report is somewhat contradictory,” said Eddie Keane of the School of Law at University of Limerick.
“For example, it states that the gardaí are ‘unique’ and hence should not have the same industrial relations rights as other public servants, yet when it comes to wage negotiations the report does not recommend a unique wage negotiating system: ie the gardaí are to be treated in the exact same way as all other people.”
He said the report seemed to base its findings on a “slightly unusual interpretation” of the landmark 2014 ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights, known as the EuroCOP case.
The group did not accept the majority ruling of the body — that the prohibition on the right to strike and collective bargaining was a breach of their civil rights.
“Rather than follow the opinion of the majority, the report uses the opinion of the minority of the committee to conclude that a potential threat to public safety is a good enough reason for an absolute prohibition on the right to strike,” said Mr Keane.
Mr Keane said there was a significant emphasis in the group’s report that An Garda Síochána was a “disciplined” hierarchal force.
“The suggestion is that allowing some members to withdraw their services would undermine this discipline,” he said.
“However, this hasn’t occurred in police forces where the members are allowed to withdraw their services, such as Western Australia.”
As regards withdrawal of labour, he said a balance would have to be struck between carrying out an effective action and not putting the public’s safety at risk.
“While police forces in other jurisdictions have operated ‘go slows’, this may not be appropriate either. In many ways a ‘go slow’ is a greater threat to public safety than a strike as it suggests that the police will be deliberately inefficient in carrying out their duties.”
He added: “Perhaps a solution could be that a percentage — previously agreed between the representative associations and management — of the affected Gardaí could withdraw their services at particular times on a rotating basis.
“While it would put pressure on senior management to organise the provision of services, it may not necessarily impact on public safety. It would also avoid classifying tasks as ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’.”
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