The Garda Representative Association, which has 10,500 members, yesterday decided that action “must take the form of unilateral industrial action by members” on November 4, 11, 18, and 25.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, representing 2,500 supervisors, said it is also considering industrial action.
The GRA’s decision puts its leaders and delegates in a legal minefield as it is a criminal offence — punishable by fines and possible imprisonment — to encourage or induce members to withhold their service or not to perform their duties.
Professor Dermot Walsh of Kent Law School told the Irish Examiner that delegates and leaders “need to be careful about circulating petitions or statements” or giving “advice” that could be interpreted as encouraging or recommending members to take industrial action.
He said: “There is the fact that such action invites at least a disciplinary response from Garda management — but if very large numbers of gardaí take industrial action then that risk is likely to be more theoretical than real.
“Mass industrial action will require a political response. I feel there is a real need to raise both pay and performance — but each must go hand in hand.”
Eddie Keane, a lecturer in employment law at University of Limerick, said the “clarity and strength” of the GRA statement could place it in a “perilous” position.
“Section 59 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that a person can be prosecuted not just for inducing a garda to withdraw their services, but for ‘any act calculated to induce’,” he said.
“It could be argued that saying industrial action ‘must be taken’, along with detailing the specific dates for such action, is an act calculated to induce a member to withhold their services.”
In its statement, the GRA said industrial action will happen “unless we hear of substantial and significant progress towards real and tangible increases in pay” — opening the door to talks.
A ballot showed 95% of members were willing to take industrial action.
Delegates at the GRA conference unanimously rejected a Department of Justice pay proposal.
Pat Ennis, general secretary of the GRA, told RTÉ: “This is not a ‘blue flu’ action — members will not be reporting for duty. It’s a withdrawal of services.”
He accepted it was “unprecedented” as the GRA does not have the legal right to withdraw labour, but he said that “individual members had the right, if they choose to take it”.
Dara Calleary, Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman, said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald “needs to step up to the plate” and take the concerns of GRA seriously.
Ms Fitzgerald said she was “disappointed” at the rejected pay deal and intention to take industrial action.
“Resolution of any outstanding issues of concern to the GRA can only be addressed through engagement between the parties and my department continues to be available to discuss those issues. It would be most unfortunate if, rather than engaging further, action were to be contemplated.”
The Garda commissioner said there are mechanisms for resolving matters and urged all to “remain engaged”.