Threat of strike became a divisive issue within force
Published 04/11/2016 | 02:30
It has been difficult enough for gardaí over the past few months to embark on the unprecedented action of refusing to turn up for work.
But now they are faced with a further dilemma.
Hours before withdrawing their labour, they received an offer from the Labour Court in response to their demands for a significant increase in their pay packets. For now, they have postponed their industrial action, pending a ballot of members.
Will their threat of action, and the potential impact it could have on their relationship with the public have been unnecessary?
Or will it mean they will raise the bar higher - as the spectre of another day of action still looms next Friday? This is all uncharted territory for the membership of the two Garda associations.
Their main concern in embarking on a series of one-day strikes will be undoubtedly focused on minimising the risk to the safety of the public.
But privately, gardaí will also be concerned about their careers. As a result of the directive from Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to turn up for duty, they individually had to inform their local managers whether their response was positive or negative.
This has become a divisive issue in some sections of the force, as the staff attached to units with either specialist roles or deemed by their representative leaders to be vital towards providing cover for the public are granted exemptions from the industrial action.
They will not be faced with the decision, and it is understandable that many of those considering going on strike told their local management that they wanted to be accompanied by a representative leader if called to a meeting with a senior officer.
It is ironic the threat of action was being taken against a background of being finally granted access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, and the right to a seat at the negotiating table at pay talks, albeit on an ad hoc basis for the moment.
This has been a major issue, particularly with the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, which brought its fight for access to Europe and secured a victory in 2014 when the EU social committee ruled in its favour.
The ruling was not welcomed by the Government and up to recently very little progress had been made in implementing it.
Finally, gardaí are allowed into the Labour Court, like all other public servants, apart from Defence Force personnel. Their next step is a ballot of their members arising from a recommendation from the State industrial relations mechaism.
In fairness to all involved in the dispute, both sides have been forced to adopt tightrope strategies with government officials trying to find a solution without breaching the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
Other public sector unions are waiting in the wings and some have already signalled they will seek something similar if the gardaí are granted payment for what is known as parading - a 15-minute session in which they are briefed on their daily duties, prior to starting their shift.
However, gardaí can argue this money had been paid to them for decades before it was scrapped in 1988 by then garda commissioner Eamonn Doherty as part of cost-saving measures.
Garda negotiators are also relying on the fact that their position is unique as they had no direct say in any of the national pay agreements up to now. It is likely to be the last time they will be in a position to play that card.