Members of the Defence Forces have welcomed a ruling from the European Committee of Social Rights which has upheld their entitlement to better collective bargaining and negotiating rights.
Despite this, however, the Committee also ruled that the Irish government is entitled to restrict the right of military personnel to go on strike.
PDFORRA, which represents soldiers, sailors and aircrew of the Permanent Defence Force, launched a complaint against the government under Articles 5 and 6 of the European Social Charter four years ago on the grounds that Defence Force representative associations did not have proper trade union rights.
The complaint outlined how they did not have the right to strike; to take part in collective bargaining over pay; take collective action or to affiliate to join umbrella organisations like the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and they argued that this meant they could not attend the national negotiations that ICTU conducts on salaries in the public sector.
The government pointed to the unique nature of the military and its role in maintaining national security and public order, and also argued that the restriction imposed under Irish law was permissible under the European Social Charter.
On the key question of the right to strike, the government argued that strike action was inconsistent with the role of the Defence Force , and said there was a clear conflict between strike action and military discipline.
The European Committee of Social Rights found that a complete ban on affiliation was neither necessary nor proportionate, particularly as it deprived the representative associations of an effective means of negotiating conditions of employment on behalf of their members.
It added that it could not conclude that the military representative associations are meaningfully consulted over pay during discussions on public service agreements.
On the right to strike, the Committee noted that most Council of Europe states (apart from Austria and Sweden) prohibit their armed forces from striking.
It said there was a justification for the imposition of the absolute prohibition on the right to strike, which was proportionate to a legitimate aim.
PDFORRA President Mark Keane said the findings vindicated the numerous requests submitted by the association to various ministers for defence seeking to affiliate to ICTU.
He noted that the Government had fought them every step of the way on the complaint, adding that members of the Defence Forces cannot be side-lined during pay talks.
A review of the current Defence Forces Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme was announced by the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, at the PDFORRA conference in October 2017.
The Department of Defence has welcomed the conclusion that the prohibition on the right to strike for members of the Defence Forces is not a violation of the European Social Charter.
In a statement, the Department also said the issues raised in the ruling will be given consideration in the aforementioned review.