11. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to introduce flexible working time and shift arrangements to improve the work-life balance for Defence Forces members in particular for those who have family commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20437/18 asked on 10 May 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The achievement of an effective balance between the demands of the workplace and the home is important for the long-term welfare and development of the Defence Forces. Family-friendly working conditions and operational effectiveness are both possible. The Defence Forces will continue to develop appropriate work-life balance initiatives to assist personnel whilst ensuring that defence capability is maintained. A range of initiatives has been introduced by the Defence Forces to assist with work-life balance. These include:

• shorter overseas deployments for specific posts,• improved notice for courses• improved notice of travel arrangements for duties and • review of centralisation and duration of career courses. Work is underway to include the Defence Forces within the remit of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 which transposed the Organisation of Working Time Directive into Irish law. This has potential to change the manner in which the day to day work of the Defence Forces is arranged and monitored. The Act sets out the statutory rights of employees in respect of rest, maximum working time and holidays. My Department has conducted an audit of activities of the Defence Forces with a view to establishing those activities which may qualify for an exemption or derogation from the Directive.

In November 2016, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation obtained Government approval to amend this Act insofar as it provides for a specific exclusion for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. Responsibility for the legislation subsequently moved to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and that Department is currently considering, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality and my Department, the most appropriate legislative method by which to bring about the necessary amendments.

A consultation process is underway with the Representative associations to consider the implementation of such changes for members of the Defence Forces and it is not possible at this point to outline the precise impacts. However, the implementation of these changes will have implications for patterns of work related to such issues as daily and weekly rest periods, breaks, maximum weekly working time, annual leave and recording of time worked.

I believe that all of the processes in train will enhance work-life balance and deliver a more effective, energetic and sustainable Organisation into the future.