Friday 20 September 2019

Report's calls to cut pensions for striking gardaí described as 'punitive... possibly illegal'

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Anne Marie Walsh

GARDA sergeants and inspectors have described a report that urges the government to cut their pensions for five years after they go on strike as “punitive” and “possibly illegal”.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said the measure recommended by independent consultant John Horgan in a review of An Garda Siochana published today is “an emotional knee-jerk reaction to the threat by individual people to withdraw their labour”.

The association claimed the ability to discuss penalties for industrial action was not contained in Mr Horgan’s terms of reference.

However, the Garda Representative Association said the report had reaffirmed the right to trade union status and the unique status of the gardai.

It said it will need to discuss its implications fully as soon as possible.

The Review of An Garda Siochana says that gardai should be given trade union rights but should be penalised for taking industrial action.

Mr Horgan recommended that the Minister for Justice and Equality immediately amend the terms of the statutory pension scheme so that a member who engages in industrial action is “ineligible to accrue pension rights” in the five years after they engage in industrial action.

“One of the unique features of the contract under which gardai are employed is a very valuable pension scheme,” he said.

He says it is even more favourable than the civil service.

“It recognises the special and unique nature of police work and it is, in my view, therefore appropriate that any member of AGS (gardai) who engages in industrial action should suffer an automatic reduction in his or her pension entitlement.”

AGSI, which represents 2,100 sergeants and inspectors, said it hoped the review would finally bring a resolution to industrial relations confusion for gardaí and undertake a forensic examination of pay and allowances.

“However, it fails in this regard,” it concluded.

It said Mr Horgan’s admission that he used “rough and ready” calculations of garda pay was irresponsible given his position and said the figures are grossly over-estimated.

“The main recommendation is around penalties for Gardaí if strike action is taken in the future,” said President Antoinette Cunningham.

“But surely, the framework to prevent threatened strike is what the report should have dealt with and not penalties based on the lack of clear industrial relations mechanisms.

“We expected a root and branch review but instead it seems this was a rushed report which failed to address the key elements of the terms of reference.”

In his review, Mr Horgan said he recognised that the potential loss of pension accrual is unprecedented and he expects it will be opposed by members of the garda associations.

However, he said it was reasonable in the context that garda will be gi9ven full negotiation rights and access to the Labour Court to resolve differences with their employer.

He said he told gardai and their employer he would drop the proposal if an effective alternative was put on the table but no suggestions that he considered effective were put forward.

He said the Garda Commissioner put forward a proposal that the ambiguity on gardai taking industrial action should be addressed through legislation.

This legislation should copperfasten the prohibition on gardai taking industrial action.

“In my view the problem is not ambiguity but, as recent events have clearly shown, there is a disinclination to implement the law,” he said.

The review by Mr Horgan was set up under the Haddington Road Agreement and reported today.

Mr Horgan says that garda pay is composed of basic pay, allowances and overtime and their pension entitlements, bringing their total compensation in the region of €100,000.

He notes that average pay for all members of the force was €63,450 last year.

He says the average rank and file garda’s pay is €63,327, and €62,911 when new recruits are included, a sergeant’s pay is €72,690, an inspector’s €85,423, and superintendent’s, €87,699.

A chief superintendent’s average pay is €101,161.

Mr Horgan says that the €50m pay package will provide extra remuneration of around €4,000 on average to a member of the force over the next 12 months.

As a result, the average garda pay scale will range from €30,400 to €50,448 from January 1.

A sergeant’s pay will range from €50,884 to €57,774 and an inspector’s from €58,059 to €63,833.

Mr Horgan says the industrial relations system is “effectively broeken and the GRA and AGSI are “not appropriately constituted or governed”.

He  suggests that a dispute resolution agreement is set up that provides that all disputes are resolved without any form of industrial action or strike in line with a 1992 code of procedure on disputes in essential services.

AGSI claimed the report was contradictory. Although it recognised the “uniqueness of gardai” it said it suggested garda pay should be deal with in a forum with other public sector workers.

“On one hand he suggests we enter into the Public Sector Pay Commission, then leave it if it doesn’t deal with garda pay matters, then further suggests that an independent review should take place every three to five years to deal exclusively with garda pay,” it said in a statement.

GRA President, Ciaran O’Neill, said the association is still awaiting trade union status with the associated civil rights including full collective bargaining, which includes the freedom to strike.

“The current generation of gardaí are aware of international ideas and has shown an increased level of discontent towards the draconian and unnecessary impediments to the civil rights of the membership,” he said.

He said the civil, social and industrial rights afforded police officers across the Europe, Scandinavia, North America, Australia and New Zealand has demonstrated how far behind Ireland is, and needs to catch up.

“For gardaí to be afforded equal status with other public servants in the upcoming Public Service Pay Commission this must include rights of affiliation and the attendant freedom to withdraw labour,” he added.

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