Lieutenant Commander Cian O’Mearain sleeps with a bell at the foot of his bed when at sea.
When the bell rings, the ship’s engineer does not have to turn around or hit the snooze button.
He is expected to get dressed and go to the control room within two minutes.
“I’ve worked through different patrol patterns over the decades,” said the engineer, who has spent 27 years at sea and ashore with the Irish Naval Service.
“What remains constant is that the day at sea is 24 hours long, 24 hours a day, responsible for machinery, its operation, the officers and men in my departments. People don’t believe that. I sleep with a bell at the end of my bed. It’s audible throughout the ship, and it’s there because I need to be there with a quick answer any time of the day or night.”
When he spoke about a motion on working hours at the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) conference yesterday, there was a strong feeling that he had had enough of the current constellation.
The motion, which passed, said delegates opposed “excessive exceptions” tabled by military leadership in implementing a working time policy.
They want to roll out the directive that limits the average weekly working time to 48 hours.
“That motion shouldn’t be before us today,” he said, before commenting on the fact that many similar motions have passed at previous conferences over the years. As an example of where this leads when there is no control over working hours, I was on board a ship for 320 days in 2006,” he said.
“The hours of work in normal and predictable defense operations are so far outside the norm that I find it difficult to explain to family and friends.
“You just don’t believe me. They wouldn’t believe me if I told them I didn’t have a day off next month, which often happens.
“They don’t believe me when I tell them I’m on call all the time. Aside from the impact on ourselves, we managers and leaders in the organization must make decisions about whether to apply the same extreme hours of work to the men and women we lead or whether we are failing in our mission. We will not fail in our mission.”
He selected a few examples from the long list of possible exceptions to the time-limited policy put forward by company management. Exception ‘c’. B. would relate to his work at sea. Another exemption covering activities on land would also include him. “So my role in the Defense Forces is to go to sea, prepare ships at sea, or train personnel for seafaring,” he said.
“There’s no other appointment I could ever keep other than to do these things. So everything I do or could do or should do falls under specific exceptions.”
He said every maritime agency, airport staff and Gardaí has benefited from the directive.
Lt Com O’Mearain sees this as an opportunity for the Department of Defense to improve the defense force’s overall package.
He says a normal pattern of an eight-hour day at sea cannot apply, but there must be “other arrangements” in terms of time off or extra pay. “I am not joking about these proposals. If you read them with the knowledge of the Defense Forces, they’re already a joke,” he said.
Commander Martin Ryan, Raco President, said if the policy “was something that was threatened at management level for implementation without consultation, it will fail and ultimately we will all have failed”.
When asked if he would reconsider the proposals, Defense Secretary Simon Coveney said the plans were ongoing. He said the department is committed to implementing the directive and plans to legislate on it early next year to ensure there are some exceptions.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/i-sleep-with-a-bell-at-the-end-of-my-bed-im-on-call-24-hours-a-day-navy-officer-on-relentless-grind-of-work-at-sea-42184643.html “I sleep with a bell at the foot of my bed. I’m on call 24 hours a day’ – a naval officer working tirelessly at sea