In February 2013 I wrote a BLOG – Reform of the Employment Hearing System in the Republic of Ireland – on the reforms which were being undertaken by Minister Bruton in the Irish Republic to bring sweeping and overdue changes to our Employment system. These reforms will be incorporated in the Workplace Relations Bill 2014.
When enacted, the Bill will streamline the existing framework for the resolution of employment rights and industrial relations complaints and disputes. The Bill sets out the statutory basis for the amalgamation of the functions currently fulfilled by the Rights Commissioner Service, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (at first instance), NERA and the Labour Relations Commission into a single new body to be known as the
Workplace Relations Commission. Thereafter, the Labour Relations Commission and the Employment Appeals Tribunal will be dissolved. The functions of the Director of the Equality Tribunal under the Employment Equality, Equality Status and Pensions Acts will be transferred to the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Bill places considerable emphasis on the early resolution of disputes as close to the workplace as possible and without the need for the parties to have recourse to formal adjudication where practicable. The Bill provides for both early resolution and mediation procedures, the outcomes of which may result in legally binding and enforceable agreements.
Where a dispute or complaint cannot be resolved by either of these mechanisms, or where the parties’ preference is for a formal hearing, the matter will be referred for adjudication before a single Adjudication Officer sitting in private. The decision of the Adjudication Officer can be appealed by either party to the Labour Court. A decision of the Labour Court (under employment rights or equality legislation) may be appealed on a point of law only to the High Court. The Circuit Court will no longer have jurisdiction to hear Appeals.
Extra powers to the Labour Court
The Labour Court will be expanded to deal with the increase in its jurisdiction. An extra division will be added to the Court and an additional Deputy Chairman will be appointed also to ensure that the four divisions can operate to full capacity. In future the Chairman of the Court and the Deputy Chairmen will be appointed by the Minister following an open competition conducted by the Public Appointments Service.
Likewise, there will be a panel of external Adjudicators appointed by the Minister following a similar open and public competition. The panel will supplement a cohort of civil servants appointed as full-time Adjudication Officers (similar to the current system of appointment of Equality Officers).
Simplification and Standardization of procedures
Whereas to date there were different dates allowed under various Acts for late submission of Claims beyond the compensation . It is usually three years for personal injury cases in Northern Ireland and two years for personal injury cases in the Republic of Ireland and six years for other claims. After this time, you are very unlikely to be able to make a claim, although there are exceptions to this. Your solicitor will advise you about the limitation period that applies in your particular case. This is a good reason for seeing a solicitor as soon as you think you may have a claim for compensation.</p> ">limitation period, the grounds for late submission of such complaints will be ‘reasonable cause’ in all cases. The maximum period for such an extended submission period will be limited to 6 months under all Employment Acts. The period within which an appeal may be brought to Labour Court will also be standardized. This will certainly make the system easier for the general public to understand.
Compliance and Prosecution for NERA (the Employment Rights Authority which enforces Employment legislation) will also be standardized. The Bill introduces introduces two new compliance measures: the Compliance Notice and the Fixed-Payment Notice. These new devices are intended to be effective means of securing employer’s compliance with Employment legislation without the need to resort to prosecution. However, an employer’s failure to comply with either form of notice (in the case of a notice which hasn’t been successfully appealed) will be an offence prosecutable by NERA in the District Court.
Enforcement of Awards
Currently, where an employer fails to fulfill an award of statutory body under Employment legislation, the claimant is generally required to commence an often protracted process through the Circuit Court. The new procedures provide for a much more straightforward enforcement process through the District Court. This process will be closely linked to the established jurisdiction of the District Court under the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts.
A lot of the reforms to the Employment rights dispute system, summarized in my February 2013 BLOG, have been achieved in anticipation of the enactment of the Workplace Relations Bill. Most importantly, the Department has established a Single Contact Portal (the Workplace Relations Customer Service), a single Workplace Relations Complaint Form (with an e-complaint facility), all incorporated within a single Workplace Relations website (www.workplacerelations.ie).
It is anticipated the Bill will be progressed through the Dáil and Seanad in the Autumn with a view to enactment before the end of 2014. Despite concerns about there being only an Appeal to the High Court on a Point of Law only, there is no doubt that these provisions will be of benefit to both employees and employers. Currently, it can take up to 12/18 months before a Case comes on for Hearing in the Employment Appeals Tribunal. It can take over 2 years before a Case comes on for Hearing before the Equality Tribunal. With other reforms being undertaken by the Minister, this Bill, when enacted, will make it more attractive for entrepreneurs to set up business in Ireland.