Saturday 18 November 2017

Gardai will have almost half year off under deal

Old system of shifts breached European regulations on work

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

A new policing shift system of six days on, four days off, due to be introduced in the coming months, could see gardai receive 174 days' annual leave.

Prolonged negotiations took place over last year between garda representatives, management and officials from the Departments of Justice and Finance. The changes to the traditional but highly complex "three relief" system began after, as revealed last year in the Sunday Independent, the old system was found to be in breach of EU working time directives.

Under the old system, gardai were suffering monthly stress and fatigue by a regime that included a four-week roster with a mix of early, late and seven straight night shifts, which one source described as a "drunken Sudoko puzzle". Many gardai, particularly those commuting to stations in Dublin, were getting barely any sleep at the end of the prolonged night shifts and, sources say, were unable to function properly and there were high levels of absenteeism. This arrangement was not compliant with EU guidelines, which state there must be at least 11 hours between late shifts.

The proposed new system for 24-hour policing, based on a model used in some UK constabularies, will now see working hours come within EU rules.

It is understood gardai, as soon as this April, will begin a cycle of six shifts followed by four leave days. On top of the leave days, gardai will have their annual leave.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations was over the length of leave under the new system and it is understood there was agreement that the current annual leave of 34 days will be reduced to 30 days. However, this will still give gardai working the shift system a total of 164 days' annual leave.

Despite having almost half the year off, sources say that the new system is much more efficient from a policing point of view. It will allow managers greater flexibility in having more gardai on duty at times when they are most needed. The old roster system meant that the same number of gardai were on duty at 6am on a Monday as there were at peak policing times at weekend evenings and nights.

The current system was introduced more than 50 years ago at a time when unmarried gardai were still expected to live in stations and be on call for duty without overtime. Discussions have taken place on and off for years but no changes were made.

Over the past few decades garda representatives were able to negotiate a range of allowances and subsistence payments which made working the shift system financially attractive.

However, major lifestyle changes of the last decade have had a profound effect on the working conditions of gardai on the shift system. Many young gardai bought houses and apartments during the property boom but, because of rocketing prices in Dublin, they chose to buy well outside the city. Commuting times meant that many came under severe strain through lack of time off.

Under the new overlapping shift system they will work a six-week cycle of shifts from 7am to 3pm, 2pm to 12am and 9pm to 7am. The three-hour overlap in the evening will place more gardai on duty in cities and towns at times when they are most in demand.

Until now the rota system applied only to station gardai, including detectives. Now, it is expected that "non-core" gardai in the traffic corps and crime task force officers will be expected to work regular 7pm to 3am weekend shifts. This was one of the negotiating sticking points as many gardai opted to join the Garda's 1,000-strong traffic corps specifically to get out of the old roster system.

It is also said that rural gardai who worked a much more attractive "reverse" three-relief system are unhappy with the new system.

According to sources, the Departments of Finance and Justice opposed the new shift system because of the amount of time off it entailed. When the EU Working Time Directive was introduced in 2003 the Government sought full exemption for gardai and the Defence Forces. Unlike the UK which sought derogation on certain aspects for its police forces, it is understood that Ireland's total exemption was legally in breach of the directive and this could be challenged in the EU courts.

Justice and Finance negotiators were faced with a near impossible task due to the complex nature of police rostering. As negotiations came to a close last year, it appears officials gave way on the new system.

Sunday Independent

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