New police rosters both healthier and less costly
A comprehensive working time agreement has been combined with new rosters for Ireland’s police force. The deal brings into effect the EU’s Working Time Directive. It was agreed in direct negotiations between the management of the force, known in Ireland as An Garda Síochána, and four representative bodies. A core feature of the agreement is that it is in tune with the very latest health and safety issues. The new system is seen as more family-friendly and more flexible for managers.
New rosters for Ireland’s police force, An Garda Síochána, are seen as a key achievement under the terms of the Public Service Agreement (2010–2014) – known as the Croke Park agreement (IE1007039I). The wide-ranging agreement commits the Irish Government to maintaining core pay and avoiding compulsory redundancy in return for trade union cooperation with major change.
The deal for the new combined rosters and working time agreement was negotiated on a voluntary basis directly between Garda management and the four representative bodies under what is known as the Westmanstown Process (426Kb PDF). The four associations involved are the Garda Representative Association (GRA), the Association of Chief Superintendents (ACS), the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).
In essence, the agreement combines new rosters and the European Working time provisions. The new rosters are also tailored to allow specified exemptions from the EU Working Time Directive related to police work. The system is currently operating on a pilot basis for one calendar year, which is due to expire in April 2013. However, the rosters are understood to be popular with police officers, while Garda management has indicated that it is also pleased with how the new system is operating so far.
Research and advice
GRA is the largest of the four Garda representative bodies, looking after the interests of around 10,000 police officers on the ground. It sought professional advice from two main sources. Dr Andrew Coogan of National University of Ireland (NUI) at Maynooth advised on the health issues related to rosters. Joe Wallace, formerly Professor of Employment Relations at the University of Limerick (UL) and now retired, conducted research on the main characteristics of rosters.
Dr Coogan carried out research in 2012, and took advice from the Garda’s own Chief Medical Officer, Dr Donal Collins. They found that some aspects of the previous Garda rosters worked against natural circadian sleep rhythms, leading to fatigue. As a result, the GRA pushed for a better work-life balance and argued in favour of the health and safety needs of its members ahead of the maximisation of overtime earnings.
Professor Wallace’s research, also carried out in 2012, produced 11 case studies, covering the private and public sectors in Ireland as well as the police forces in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These found that while workers in Ireland tended to favour 12-hour shifts, the Scandinavian police unions were strongly opposed to this model because of health concerns and higher accident risks.
One of the case studies covered the old Garda system, which had been in place since the early 1970s. The key findings of that study were that:
- eight-hour breaks between shifts were considered too short to deal with fatigue;
- days that finished at 6am were marked as ‘rest days’ but were really sleep periods;
- continuity of work was affected by the combination of seven night shifts with two rest days either end, leading to a 12-day period of non-availability during normal business hours;
- sergeants found it difficult to detail rosters on weekends due to leave days being taken on Friday and Saturday.
Six days on, four off
The new roster system provides for five units staffing a ten-week (70 day) period, with each unit working seven cycles of six days on and four days off. The old system was made up of eight-hour shifts. Garda now work a morning shift, then a late shift and finally a night shift, which is the direct opposite of the old system. The new system is seen as more in tune with the body’s circadian rhythms.
Based on GRA sources, the specialist weekly magazine Industrial Relations News (IRN) reported that while resistance to the new rosters was found among older members of the force, younger officers were generally solidly in favour. This was because the system involved less commuting and more days off for those with young families, ensuring a better work-life balance. Also, the number of female officers is nearing a quarter of the full force and the new system is seen as more family-friendly.
For management, having different start times means greater flexibility. More officers can be rostered on the busy weekend evenings, cutting down on overtime costs.
In respect of the basic 48-hour limit on weekly working time, the agreement allows this to be averaged over a rolling period of six months. This also permits rosters for up to 60 hours work in certain weeks, but with much lower hours in other weeks.
Given that police work is, however, unpredictable by its very nature, special situations are covered under three separate headings – ‘exceptional events’, ‘extraordinary events’ and ‘exigencies of the service’.
The overall effect of the agreement is that it locks the EU working time provisions into the new Croke Park agreed rosters. At this time of austerity and cutbacks in the police force, the agreement is regarded as a major achievement by the negotiators. The approach – similar to best practice in Scandinavia – is in line with the latest ergonomic and medical research. It is also seen as being more family-friendly and more responsive to the needs of younger officers.
Brian Sheehan, IRN Publishing