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Gardai work to rule

Today the Gardai begin their first offical day of work to rule. Described by the GRA as a ‘withdrawal of goodwill’ the Gardai will not be using their own phones, cameras or laptops in the course of their work. They will no longer take work phone calls during personal time, which will disrupt the much relied on scheme of rostering Gardai at short notice. Further, they will not participate in a voluntary scheme of attending at court as witnesses without being summonsed which could pose significant problems to criminal trials.

This is perhaps a more overt step than the Blue Flu of the 1990s and does not involve non-attendance at work, just a limitation to formal working situations. Much has been in recent debates as to it being illegal for the Gardai to strike, but as Prof Dermot Walsh explained in an article in the Irish Times last December there is in fact no legal bar to strike action. (The Irish Times has incorrectly stated the legislation today, claiming that “Under the Garda Siochána Act 2005 it is a criminal offence for a member of the force to withdraw their labour or to induce anybody to withdraw their labour.” In fact s.59 of that Act states that it is an offence to induce a member to withhold his services).

It is difficult to see how, irrespective of this debate, today’s action could be considered strike action and certainly this strategy represents the GRA making a strong statment as to the level of work, beyond that which they are directly paid for, that most officers put into their job. These arguments are not of course limited to the Gardai, and many public sector workers can make similar claims. But in most Western societies the norm is to prevent the police from being able to strike, given the need of the state in times of civil unrest to be able to have recourse to some body for the maintenance of order and the use of force, where necessary. Police therefore do constitute a special category when it comes to striking which makes today’s action all the more noteworthy. Should it escalate, one wonders how the government woudl respond. We here at HRiI will keep an eye on developments.

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