State slammed over soldiers’ exclusion from full pay talks

A European ruling has criticised the Government for excluding soldiers, sailors, and aircrew from full engagement in national pay talks, potentially opening the way for further court action.

PDForra, which represents enlisted men and women in the Defence Forces, won the ruling from the powerful European Social Rights Committee (ESRC), which also stated it should be allowed to seek affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

The association lodged a complaint in October 2014 under articles of the European Social Charter and took the action with the support of European Organisation of Military Associations.

The Department of Defence has maintained that PDForra was allowed to take part in the most recent national pay talks, but the association pointed out that it was excluded from getting the same “side deals” as other public servants who won recognition of higher grade status and increased overtime rates.

PDForra president Mark Keane said the findings vindicated the numerous requests submitted by his association to various ministers for defence seeking to affiliate to ICTU.

He said the ESRC ruling highlighted the right to organise, and that “suppression for the sake of suppression is not a legitimate aim”.

“Make no mistake about it, the Government fought us every step of the way in respect of this complaint,” Mr Keane said.

He said PDForra welcomed the fact that these findings have been incorporated into the review of the Defence Forces’ Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme, but added the Defence Forces “cannot be side-lined during [pay] talks”.

The Department of Defence said it welcomed that the ESRC found that the right to strike was incompatible with Irish military service, even though it noted that strike action is permitted within the Austrian and Swedish armed forces.

Mr Keane said that PDForra would never contemplate strike action and had stated this on numerous occasions.

The department added that the ESRC case was lodged before a number of initiatives were taken by the Government and that minister of state with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, has already initiated a review of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF).

The department said it will consider the implications of the findings that there is a violation of the charter in respect of the right of the PDF representative associations to affiliate with a national employees group such as ICTU.

It added that the issue raised “complex questions from a legal, operational and management perspective and will require detailed consideration and engagement with a number of stakeholders”.

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