Thursday 8 December 2016

New €200m plan to modernise garda force set to be hit by campaign of industrial action

Anne-Marie Walsh, Industry Correspondent

Published 06/07/2016 | 12:08

Garda Representative Association members, including deputy president Jim Mulligan, acting secretary Donal Flannery, and GRA president Ciaran O’Neill, protest about garda salaries at Leinster House last month. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Garda Representative Association members, including deputy president Jim Mulligan, acting secretary Donal Flannery, and GRA president Ciaran O’Neill, protest about garda salaries at Leinster House last month. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

A new €200m plan to bring the garda force up to date is set to be hit by a campaign of industrial action by over 10,500 rank and file members in protest at a pay freeze.

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The Garda Representative Association has announced that it will not cooperate with the Garda Commissioner’s recently-launched Modernisation and Renewal plan after accusing the government of “unfairly punishing” its members.

It branded a pause on its members’ wages, which means they will not get their annual increments, as a “political decision” that was “an inflammatory escalation” of a dispute over a public sector pay deal.

It comes after the association got confirmation that members who are due their increments later this month, will not receive them.

The modernisation plan aims to modernise the force with new initiatives including:

*a new division to investigate cyber crime, including online fraud, paedophilia and illegal trading.

*the introduction of community policing teams

*new record management systems and more use of advanced technology including electronic tracking of criminal investigations from crime scenes to courts, greater use of forensic evidence and DNA.

*an electronic exhibit management system to ensure evidence including CCTV footage, computers and statements do not go missing.

President of the association, Ciaran O’Neill, said the association had repeatedly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, not to impose the pay freeze while a review of pay for garda was still underway.

He said the review, due under the last public sector pay deal – the Haddington Road deal – should be finalised before they sign up to the next deal.

“This political decision is an inflammatory escalation ignoring our genuine and legitimate grievances,” he said.

“Our Executive has no option but to respond appropriately.”

He said members of the gardai are the only group of workers that have not been given the full conditions of the Haddington Road agreement.

In a statement, the GRA said its Central Executive Committee voted to suspend engagement with modernisation plan, which was announced on June 9.

“This decision was taken reluctantly as the association had advocated for many of the reforms contained in this programme for more than a decade,” it said.

“Our members will not be engaging with the programme, which is due to be rolled out around the country over the coming months.

“This is a direct response to the arbitrary decision taken by government to suspend incremental pay increases despite the government’s breach of the Haddington Road Agreement.”

The pay freeze was automatically enforced on members of unions or staff representative organisations who had not signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement under emergency legislation on July 1, when the agreement came into force.

The Lansdowne Road agreement allows public servants to get some restoration of pay cuts taken during the crisis years, worth in the region of €2,000 each.

But the organisations outside the deal object to working extra hours, which amount to 30 extra hours a year for gardai and 33 for secondary school teachers.

The GRA is also refusing to broker a deal with the Department of Justice because it is demanding that a pay review promised under the last public sector deal, the Haddington Road agreement, has still not reported.

It hopes that issues it raised with the review body, including its members’ negotiating rights, the right to strike, and its calls for the setting up of an independent pay body for gardai will be dealt with first.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has agreed a deal with the department, which means it is recommending the Lansdowne Road agreement to its members and will reballot them shortly.

In return, sergeants and inspectors will get paid their annual increments until at least August, when the ballot result is due.

The deal means that they must work the extra 30 hours but it promises that the pay review will be complete within six months.

Under the same deal, which was also offered to the GRA, they would win back a rent allowance worth over €4,000-a-year for new recruits if they sign up.

The GRA argues that there are outstanding issues under the Haddington Road Agreement that have not been addressed by the government and as such, that agreement has not expired.

It said the government this week appointed a new chairman, John Horgan, to the Review of garda pay and industrial relations.

“Thus the government has conceded that the Haddington Road Agreement is not yet concluded,” it said.

“Members of garda rank should remain protected from the implementation of the FEMPI (2015) Act that freezes pay until 2018, because they are still protected under this national agreement. They have been unfairly punished.”

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