The body that represents mid-ranking gardaí has begun High Court proceedings against the Garda Commissioner over proposed rostering arrangements.
The action has been brought by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), which claims that proposed new rostering arrangements, to replace those which were introduced as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, will adversely impact on its members' health, safety and family lives.
The current work time arrangements are due to end in October.
The AGSI said that while it has engaged in talks, and is committed to agreeing new rostering arrangements, work time proposals put to the representative body last year are not acceptable.
Arising out of the failure to reach an agreement on a new arrangement, the association fears that the commissioner will put a roster in place without the representative's body's agreement.
As a result, the AGSI wants the court to injunct the commissioner from unilaterally imposing a new rostering schedule on its 2,500 members later this year.
It also seeks orders preventing the commissioner from extending working arrangements put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the commissioner exhaust all internal garda dispute resolution procedures before seeking the assistance of the Workplace Relations Commission.
The injunctions, if granted, would remain in place pending the outcome of the proceedings.
The AGSI's case was briefly mentioned before Mr Justice Brian O'Moore.
The judge, on an ex-parte basis, granted the AGSI permission to serve short notice of the injunction proceedings on the commissioner.
The judge made the matter returnable to Tuesday of next week.
Paul McGarry SC, with John Berry Bl, instructed by Sean Costello solicitors for the AGSI, told the court that in 2012 an agreement was reached between the Garda representative bodies and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about working times.
This Working Time Agreement (WTA), known as the 'Westmanstown Roster' was agreed in the context of the 2010 Public Sector Agreement, which was sought to enhance the State's public services during the then financial emergency.
As a result of the WTA, which incorporated EU directives designed to enhance and protect employee's health and safety, AGSI members were rostered to work ten hours a day for six days, followed by four days off.
Counsel said that the WTA remained in place until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
An Garda Síochána played a crucial role in the State's response to the pandemic.
That response required the adaptation of a new roster which involved members working four days on, where they typically worked for 12 hours, followed by four days off.
The AGSI agreed to the new arrangements because the commissioner had allegedly represented to it that the changed roster would be temporary and would only be in place as long as required to assist the State during the pandemic.
The Minister for Health made a declaration in March 2022 that effectively brought many of the State's emergency responses to Covid-19 to an end, counsel said.
However, the AGSI claims that despite this, its members are continuing to work under the contingency roster put in place due to the pandemic rather than the one agreed in 2012.
Commencing last year, ongoing discussions involving the relevant parties about the implementation of new working time arrangements had taken place.
However, no agreement on a new roster has been reached with the AGSI.
It believes that further discussions should take place, and that all internal dispute mechanisms within An Garda Síochána should be exhausted rather than have the matter go before the WRC.
However, based on recent correspondence between the parties' legal representatives, the AGSI believes that the commissioner may unilaterally and without the AGSI's agreement introduce a new roster when the current arrangements expire.
Counsel said that it is the AGSI's case that the commissioner cannot lawfully unilaterally impose the new roster in breach of the legitimate expectation of its members.
The proposed new arrangements, it is further contended, breach EU law, and a purported commitment by the commissioner to restore the 2012 WTA once the Covid-19 emergency had ended.
In a sworn statement to the court, AGSI's General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham said that it had been proposed that to replace the working time arrangements that were in place during Covid-19 it members would have to attend for duty for less hours on more days during the shift cycle.
The proposed arrangements would also see the number of free days available to them reduced. That proposal was rejected by 63% of the AGSI's members.
Expert reviews of the proposed new arrangements, she said, found that the roster arrangements proposed last year would impact members' work/life balance, increase fatigue, and work-place risk.
She said that she did not agree with a notice published by the commissioner earlier this month that the matter should go to the WRC, and that all internal industrial relations process within An Garda Síochána have been exhausted in relation to a revived roster.
She said that talks between the parties should recommence.
The AGSI members, she said, are required to work anti-social hours due to the role they fulfil in the community.
She added that members are entitled to a work-life balance, and to mitigate the harmful effects of working such anti-social hours.
A large proportion of the AGSI's members, she said, are "female and parents, and the need to ensure that working time arrangements are consistent with the respect for their health and safety is at the core of the issues in these proceedings".