Proposal to streamline employment rights bodies

The Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has published a consultation paper on reforming employment rights and industrial relations structures. The key aim is to create a ‘new integrated two-tier structure’ to replace existing employment rights bodies. This will make it simpler and more cost-effective for workplace disputes and grievances to be resolved. The minister has invited submissions from interested parties to the consultation process.

Background

The key aim of the proposals outlined in the consultation paper (205Kb PDF) is to create a new integrated two-tier structure to replace five existing employment rights and industrial relations bodies in Ireland, namely:

  • the Labour Relations Commission;
  • the Equality Tribunal;
  • the National Employment Rights Authority;
  • the Employment Appeals Tribunal;
  • the Labour Court.

Under the new structure, an overall body for employment rights issues would handle cases on a first instance basis, with the Labour Court retaining its autonomy as an appellate body. There will be a single point of entry and a single website for the five bodies, which are planned to be in place by the end of 2011.

Resolving disputes

The reform process will not impact on the collective dispute resolution functions of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) or the Labour Court. Under the new system, ‘individuals would always be able to take their own case and would not have to rely on a legal representative, a representative body or a labour inspector’. Other elements include:

  • greater efficiency and savings won through the development of shared services and integration of back office functions;
  • support to ensure that speedy dispute resolution can occur at workplace level;
  • all related cases will be heard at the same hearing;
  • the system will have only one entry point;
  • the system will be easy to understand and use.

Minister Bruton said the various employment rights bodies had ‘grown up in a haphazard manner over the years and are not fit for purpose’. He said the proposed reforms are aimed at providing Ireland with a ‘world-class employment rights system, as well as reducing costs for taxpayers and users of the system’.

Saying that an effective system would see more grievances resolved in the workplace, Mr Bruton observed:

Most workers and trade unions do not want to rely on employment law to vindicate their rights, and high standards in the workplace can be a source of competitive advantage for businesses.

The minister will establish an implementation group in the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation to lead the process. A short consultation process with stakeholders was also announced. Ger Deering, the Director of the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), has been named as the industry expert responsible for coordinating the streamlining process across the various employment rights bodies and Kieran Mulvey, Chief Executive of the LRC, will assume leadership of NERA.

Social partner submissions

In its submission to the consultation process, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC) welcomed the minister’s objective of creating a single body dealing with grievances and disputes in the first instance and another body to deal with appeals. However, it cautioned that the effectiveness of a system ‘that has served us well’ needs to be preserved, while embracing reform.

According to IBEC, the key principles of reform should include the promotion of good employment relations practice, the safeguarding of employment rights and a culture of compliance through information and awareness. It says this should include ‘tackling the bias towards a collective ethos in framing employment law’ and acknowledging the legitimacy of models that are built upon the ‘direct employment relationship’.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Congress) wants a ‘simple and efficient institutional structure offering high quality customer service, including a single authoritative source of information and a single entry point for claims’. The submission by Congress broadly welcomes the move, while stressing its belief that the resolution of grievances and disputes should be achieved as close to the workplace as possible and as early as possible after they arise.

Congress says it is crucial that those who design, operate and enforce any new procedure fully understand the distinction between ‘disputes of right and disputes of interest’.

Roisin Farrelly, IRN Publishing

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