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  • The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Richard Bruton, is progressing with reforms to the Employment Hearing system in Ireland. First, we had the launch of the Workplace Relations website which included the creation of the new Workplace Relations Claim Form which covers Claims being submitted to the current Rights Commissioner, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Equality Tribunal and the Labour Court. Complaints are now acknowledged within five working days and employers are notified of the claim within five working days of it being lodged.

    The Department has also provided for Mediation and Conciliation and it would appear that it hopes very much to mirror the services already provided in Northern Ireland by the Labour Relations Agency.

    The current Workplace Relations Website states that it is an interim measure to gain an early single web presence and to support the phased replacement of all existing websites. While the websites of the Labour Relations Commission, National Employment Rights Authority, Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Labour Court and the Equality Tribunal will remain in place during the lifetime of this interim website they will be replaced in due course on the launch of the final Single Website for Workplace Relations.

    The Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation will merge the five existing employment rights bodies into the Workplace Relations Service, to hear all first instance claims and the Labour Court to carry out the appeals function.
    Minister Bruton was in the Dáil recently to provide an update on the plans for the new system, and when it is expected that legislation will be published.

    Legislation in the form of the Workplace Relations Bill, to provide for reform of statutory Workplace Relations Bodies, has been included on the Spring Legislature programme for the Government. It is understood that the Government aims to have this legislation enacted before the end of the Spring sitting of the Dáil.

    Mr Bruton intends to continue to progress the reform and bring about further enhancements for users of the services on an administrative basis in the coming months. These include:
    • Establish a Single Hearings Management and Scheduling Unit.
    • Establish a Single/Shared Corporate Services Unit for the Workplace Relations Bodies.
    • Provide a version of Workplace Relations Complaint Form that can be submitted online (e-Complaint Form) – of which work has already begun
    • Enhance Adjudication Arrangements and reduce backlogs in the Equality Tribunal.
    • Develop and deliver an accredited training programme for Adjudicators.
    • Implement new business processes in the Workplace Relations Bodies.
    • Implement a Code of Practice and Conduct for adjudicators.
    • Introduce standard templates for Rights Commissioners’ decisions/Equality Tribunal and EAT Determinations.
    • Review and revise, as necessary, existing statutory instruments (SIs).
    • Rationalise hearings venues.
    • Develop a Single Determinations Database – which the consultation mentioned above has been completed
    • Put in place a Single Complaints Management System.

    In the the most recent issue of the Irish Employment Law Review Kevin Duffy of the Labour Court and Tom Mallon BL submitted articles with two different views of the Minister Bruton’s system. There is no doubt that this new system will be more efficient and streamlined. Under the current system it can take up to 1 ½ years for an Employment Tribunal case to come on for Hearing. This is unacceptable, particularly in cases where the employee has been dismissed but hopes to be reinstated.

    In an Article in the Irish Times – Monday, May 7, 2012 titled Government “Employment Blueprint has serious flaws” Tom Mallon BL stated, no doubt making reference to the fact that there will no longer be an Appeal to the Circuit Court, that:

    “The blueprint is, in my view, fundamentally flawed and will not deliver the necessary improvement in the current unacceptable and somewhat chaotic process. The blueprint suggests some procedures which are constitutionally doubtful and in this regard it is well to remember that the Labour Court itself on its website confirms that it is not a court of law.
    Under these proposals it will be, and will in fact be the only court of law dealing with factual disputes of huge importance to individual employees and employers. Irish citizens are entitled to have disputes concerning one of the most significant relationships, that of employer and employee, determined by an appropriately qualified and independent tribunal. Altering the entire structure of the Labour Court will not only not deliver the necessary reforms but could have a significant adverse effect on the success of that body in its industrial relations role.”

    Bearing in mind the absence of such an Appeal both claimants and respondents will need to ensure that they are properly prepared from the start and instruct a solicitor who is very experienced in Employment Law. There will be no opportunity for mistakes!