Monday, May 2, 2022

Ireland: move towards union affiliation of military representative associations

Sean O’Riordan
, a defence correspondent, advocates in this article for service members of the Irish Permanent Defence Forces (PDF) getting better work conditions and pay.[1] Elected officials, in particular the Minister of Defence, are called to authorise union affiliation of the military representative associations with a larger national labour organization, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The goal is for those military associations to be part of the national pay talks, as the current scheme of negotiations is perceived inefficient.

The correspondent writes that, not only are service members the lowest paid of the public sector but as the private sector offers better pay and conditions, many service members are leaving the PDF, raising workload and stress for the remaining ones.

More than 90% of Irish service members are already represented either by the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) for the enlisted personnel[2], or by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO)[3]. These organizations were established in 1990s pursuant to Irish defence legislation in order to represent service members in relation to their remuneration and conditions of service[4]. Since then, both organizations have been representing their members within an institutionalized process, called the Conciliation & Arbitration Scheme (C&A Scheme), “to address issues related to matters encompassed by the scheme, including rates of pay and allowances for members of the PDF; and terms and conditions for recruitment into and promotion within the PDF.”[5]

However, the C&A Scheme has been criticized for some years. Irish defence legislation does not allow an association to be affiliated to any trade union without the consent of the Minister of Defence.[6] PDFORRA sought that consent to become affiliated to ICTU but was denied. PDFORRA wishes to benefit from ICTU bargaining power and access to information and discussion on pay of the public sector. The European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL), military representative organisation for several hundred thousand service members in 22 different European countries, submitted a complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR). EUROMIL alleged Ireland was “in violation of Article 5 [right to organise[7]] and Article 6 [right to bargain collectively/right to take collective action (strike)[8]] of the Revised European Social Charter [Charter] on the grounds that defence force representative associations do not possess proper trade union rights.”[9]

In its 2018 decision, the ECSR concluded that prohibiting military associations from joining larger organization had the impact of depriving those associations an effective means of negotiating conditions of employment, contrary to Article 5 of the Charter.[10] ECSR further concluded that the C&A Scheme “fails to ensure sufficient access of military representative associations to pay agreement discussions” at national level for the public sector, in violation of Article 6§2 of the Charter.[11] However, the ECSR held that the prohibition of the right to strike of Irish service members does not violate Article 6§4 as it is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.[12]

ECSR decisions “are not directly enforceable in the domestic legal systems” although “they must be respected by the States concerned.”[13] As explained on ECSR’s website, “they set out the law and can provide the basis for positive developments in social rights through legislation and case-law at national level.”[14] Therefore, based on EUROMIL v. Ireland decision, PDFORRA sought remedy before the Irish High Court “to force the government to allow it affiliate with the umbrella union group ICTU.”[15]

Recently the RACO, traditionally supportive of the C&A scheme, also decided to seek affiliation with ICTU. The move was supported by 85% of its members who “have lost faith” in the current process, according to RACO.[16]

At the time of the ECSR decision, the then-Chief of the Defence Staff of the PDF expressed concerns that granting affiliation could have implications for State security, in particular if service members opt to strike. Both PDFORRA and RACO ensured it would never happen.[17] On that point, before ECSR, EUROMIL stated that “ICTU has stated that PDFORRA could be affiliated to ICTU with whatever conditions the Government deems necessary.”[18]

It will be interesting to see how the debate unfolds. In particular, whether the Minister of Defence, after reviewing the RACO ballot result, would decide to consent to union affiliation. Or whether the High Court of Ireland would intervene to bring the Irish government to do so.

[1] Sean O’Riordan, “Sean O'Riordan: All our military personnel want is to be treated fairly”, Irish Examiner, April 21, 2022, <>.

[4] Defence (Amendment) Act, 1990 (IR), number 6 of 1990, s. 2 (1) [DAA 1990] :

(1) Subject to section 3 of this Act, the Minister may provide by regulations for the establishment of an association or associations (in this Act referred to as an “association”) for the purpose of representing members of such rank or ranks of the Defence Forces as may be specified in the regulations in relation to matters affecting their remuneration and such other matters as the Minister may specify in the regulations, but excluding matters relating to any operation and the raising, maintenance, command, constitution, organisation and discipline of the Defence Forces under the Principal Act and offences in relation to the Defence Forces and military property under that Act.

[5] Ireland, Department of Defence, “Organisation information – Conciliation and Arbitration Branch “, October 21, 2019, <>.

[6] DAA 1990, s. 2(3).

[7] Council of Europe, Revised European Social Charter, CETS No. 163, Strasbourg, May 3, 1996, [Charter], <>, art. 5:

Article 5 – The right to organise

With a view to ensuring or promoting the freedom of workers and employers to form local, national or international organisations for the protection of their economic and social interests and to join those organisations, the Parties undertake that national law shall not be such as to impair, nor shall it be so applied as to impair, this freedom. The extent to which the guarantees provided for in this article shall apply to the police shall be determined by national laws or regulations. The principle governing the application to the members of the armed forces of these guarantees and the extent to which they shall apply to persons in this category shall equally be determined by national laws or regulations.

[8] Charter, art. 6 :

Article 6 – The right to bargain collectively

With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to bargain collectively, the Parties undertake:

1.         to promote joint consultation between workers and employers;

2.         to promote, where necessary and appropriate, machinery for voluntary negotiations between employers or employers' organisations and workers' organisations, with a view to the regulation of terms and conditions of employment by means of collective agreements;

3.         to promote the establishment and use of appropriate machinery for conciliation and voluntary arbitration for the settlement of labour disputes;

and recognise:

4.         the right of workers and employers to collective action in cases of conflicts of interest, including the right to strike, subject to obligations that might arise out of collective agreements previously entered into.

[9] European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL) v. Ireland, Complaint No. 112/2014, par. 2, <> [EUROMIL v. Ireland].

[10] Id., par. 56.

[11] Id., par. 97.

[12] Id., par. 117-118.

[13] Council of Europe, “European Social Charter – The Charter in four steps”, <>.

[14] Id.

[15] Sean O’Riordan, “Defence forces group PDFORRA lodges High Court case to allow ICTU link”, Irish Examiner, June 30, 2020, <>.

[16] Sean O’Riordan, “Military officers seek union affiliation for pay talks”, Irish Examiner, April 20, 2022, <>.

[17] Id.

[18] EUROMIL v. Ireland, supra note 9, par. 25 in fine.

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