In 2012 the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation released a document titled “Blueprint to Deliver a World-Class Workplace Relations Service”. Within this document, Minister Bruton when referring to the industrial relations institutions in Ireland stated that they were “so complex that even practitioners had difficulty understanding and accessing it. There were, and in some cases still are, long delays in scheduling hearings and further delays in issuing decisions. This is not an acceptable level of service”.
From 2012 to date a number of measures can be attributed to the proposed reforms. There has been a reduction in the overall number of complaint forms required to submit a complaint. Previously, there were 30 complaint forms dealing with different employment legislation; this has been reduced to one complaint form. Whilst there is a benefit to having the total number of forms reduced, that form is difficult to follow and more could be done to simplify it. Employers are now being notified much earlier of a complaint made against them.
One of the largest aspects of the reform will be the restructuring of the current dispute resolution bodies. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has been set up, and will subsume the Labour Relations Commission, NERA and the Equality Tribunal. The WRC will also hear first instance complaints under the Unfair Dismissals Acts that currently come before the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) because one party objects to a hearing by a Rights Commissioner. The WRC is to provide an “adjudication service” for hearing such first instance complaints.
It appears at present that the adjudication service will function similarly to the way in which Rights Commissioners operate, albeit with some changes.
One proposed difference is that decisions of the adjudication service are to be published online. At present, first instance recommendations of Rights Commissioners are confidential and are not made available online. A move to publish first- instance decisions could result in some disputes between an employee and employer permanently damaging the relationship between the parties.
The Labour Court will remain in existence. An additional division has been proposed to deal with the increase in the number of complaints the Court will hears because of the abolition of the EAT. The Department has estimated that there will be a 56% increase in the number of hearings before the Court. This increase does not take into account the Early Resolution Service which has also been established. The Department envisages that this service will assist with the increase in the number of Labour Court hearings.
The Early Resolution Service is a quasi-mediation service conducted over the telephone. The service has been in operation for more than a year. No data are available on how many disputes it has resolved. In the absence of data, it is too early to consider whether it is a success.
Importantly, the Blueprint acknowledges that the Conciliation Service of the LRC is important to the structure of industrial relations in Ireland. This service will continue to provide conciliation in trade disputes prior to the Court becoming involved.
Ibec continues to engage with the Department in relation to the legislation and will consult members in further detail when the Bill is published.
Monday, 10 March 2014