Historic deal allows military personnel to join trade union body

Historic deal allows military personnel to join trade union body

Around 6,500 frontline military personnel are allowed the right of temporary association to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) pending an amendment of the Defence Amendment Act 1990 which will then allow PDForra's members permanent affiliation. File picture

Rank and file soldiers will for the first time have a voice at upcoming national pay talks after a settlement announced in the High Court allows the representative body PDforra to have temporary associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

The ICTU temporary status is solely for the forthcoming pay negotiations up to June 30, 2024, or until relevant amending legislation is passed.

PDforra which represents 6,500 soldiers has undertaken as a part of the settlement that it will not call for, or support industrial action in the Defence Forces or in any other sector.

It has also agreed it will not request its members to go on strike or engage in any form of trade dispute or industrial action. 

It has further undertaken it shall not support directly or indirectly strike action of any other trade dispute or any industrial action by other organisations, trade unions or any persons or individuals.

It has also agreed it shall not refuse to follow a lawful order to pass a picket line or it will not support other parties, organisations or associations in the context of industrial action of any form whatsoever.

It is further agreed it should not engage in public agitation, protests, lobbying or media commentary including all forms of social media against Government policy.

The settlement has arisen in a case brought by a Wexford soldier and PDforra against the Minister for Defence, Ireland, and the Attorney General.

In the proceedings, the soldier and PDforra had sought various declarations under the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 over the refusal to provide consent to the soldier to be associated with the ICTU.

It also sought a declaration that Section 8 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 considered individually or in conjunction with the restrictions imposed on soldiers under the Defence Amendment Act 1990 which prohibits soldiers from joining a trade union was repugnant to the Constitution.

It was claimed that as a result of restrictions in the legislation the soldier had been unable to join any national umbrella group advocating for employee rights and he and the representative body had been denied the right to effectively collectively bargain for better terms and conditions of employment.

As a result, they also claimed they were denied access to the Labour Court and the Workplace Relations Commission and the ordinary mechanisms of dispute resolution available to other citizens through their workers' associations and trade unions.

PDforra further claimed it remained excluded from all central pay negotiations in the State, all effective industrial machinery in the State and all of the protections afforded to workers under the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

Gerard Guinan, Pdforra general secretary, said they had campaigned extensively to be permitted to associate with ICTU and had undertaken a number of actions through European institutions and had also initiated court action in this jurisdiction.

PDForra first sought association with ICTU in 1994, when Peter Cassells attended their annual conference and advocated for a change in the Constitution of ICTU to allow the association. During the intervening years, successive PDForra national executives sought the grant of association but were denied the right.

“PDForra has always held that the grant of association was a human right and had to be vindicated in the interests of our members. The recent Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces acknowledged that pay negotiations within this jurisdiction were undertaken centrally and that our members did suffer a form of disadvantage as a consequence. 

"PDforra has no doubt that the grant of association to ICTU will enhance the operational capability of the Defence Forces as we seek to retain and recruit citizens,” Mr Guinan said.

He said PDForra wanted to acknowledge the contribution made by EUROMIL, the association representing armed forces from across Europe, officials from ICTU who provided guidance along the way, including Ester Lynch who is currently with the European Trade Union Council (ETUC), and countless representatives from other organisations which assisted them.

PDForra president Mark Keane said his association looks forward to engaging with officials from ICTU in the coming weeks as national pay talks commence.

“Our association has no doubt that it will make a positive contribution to trade unionism in the years to come. There are many people across society who have contributed to us attaining these rights and I have to acknowledge the work of journalists who kept the issue in the public eye and helped to bring this day about,” Mr Keane said.

Meanwhile, RACO which represents 1,100 officers, said it’s disappointed Defence Minister Simon Coveney has not yet provided it with the same consent to affiliate to ICTU.

Its general secretary Commandant Conor King claimed the Department of Defence is seeking to take RACO to court to achieve a similar conditional agreement as that signed with PDFORRA. He said that RACO, unlike PDForra, hadn’t engaged in legal action in an attempt to gain ICTU association.

“Therefore, as we have not taken any legal action, RACO hopes and expects to achieve agreement without delay on associate membership of ICTU with any reasonable conditions that the Minister for Defence may wish to place on the association, through the Permanent Defence Forces Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme,” Comdt King said.

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