Labour Disputes Act 1992
Not too long ago the Minister responsible for labour, Minister Fahy, published a ‘Declaration of Labour Dispute’, as per the Labour Disputes Act 1992 (opens as a pdf).
This essentially declared that a labour dispute exists between the Government and X number of Government workers.
Importantly, the publication notes that as a result of this labour dispute has now been referred to the Labour Disputes Tribunal.
Now, while this notice is based on section four (which notes the need for publication of the notice in question) and section eleven (which empowers the Minister to refer a dispute to a tribunal), perhaps the most relevant section of this Act is not mentioned in the notice – section nineteen.
So, what does section nineteen say?
(1) At any time after the notice mentioned in section 4 is published or at any time after a labour dispute is referred to the Tribunal and the dispute in either case is not otherwise determined, a lock-out, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike is unlawful.
(2) It is unlawful to commence or continue or to apply any sums in furtherance or support of, any lock-out, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike that is unlawful under subsection (1).
(3) Any person who takes part in, incites or in any way encourages, persuades or influences any person to take part in, or otherwise acts in furtherance of, a lock-out, strike or irregular industrial action short of a strike that is unlawful under this section is guilty of an offence and is liable –
(a) on conviction on indictment to a fine of five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for two years, or both;
(b) on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for three months:
Provided that no person shall commit an offence under this section by reason only of his having ceased work or refused to continue to work or accept employment.
So, what does this mean?
Well, it basically makes it illegal to continue the mass strike, to occupy the Cabinet Lawn or, if I’m reading it rightly, for a blog such as mine to write in support of such action.
I don’t think it circumvents our constitutional rights however, which include the right of freedom to assembly and freedom of speech.
As such, I don’t see anyway to stop people continuing to occupy the Cabinet Lawn under the right of freedom of assembly. So, in theory, workers could occupy the grounds during their lunch hours or using their furlough days (might as well take advantage of them to get rid of them!) as in that capacity they wouldn’t technically be on strike.
And the freedom of speech right allows one to advocate the above and other positions too.
Whether the unions will adopt either of the two, I don’t know.
The unions might agree to the tribunal and call their members to avoid breaking the law.
Conceivably the unions may chose to simply ignore the notice and dare the Government to take action. It’s a high-stakes game at that point.
I understand that while I was writing and posting this, the union leaders have effectively called the Government’s bluff and ruled out arbitration, and have called for workers to engage in a third day of action. They’ve also stated they plan to be out all night and have invited people to join them.
I think the potential for an attempt to silence the workers ad crush the unions is suddenly much more real. I spoke in an earlier post about the need to prepare for potential police intimidation, and with the passing of this notice the Government has somewhat given themselves a carte blanche to do just that.
Technically, the unions are not on strike but at a general meeting. So that may get around the legal issue of section 19, although I’m sure that will be open to dispute by those opposed to the union and by the Government. Either way, I think it’s clear this isn’t going to end soon, or amicably.
Interestingly, the unions are now calling on their members from outside the public sector to join them in this general meeting tomorrow, which, while technically not a general strike, is, pretty much, a general strike.