A round up of 2011 and the “hot topics” for 2012
Restructuring of employment law enforcement
Perhaps the most significant development in employment law in Ireland during 2011 was the proposal by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to restructure the current system of employment law enforcement in Ireland. Currently the bodies of first instance dealing with employment and industrial relations disputes are the Labour Court, Labour Relations Commission, Rights Commissioners, NERA, Equality Tribunal and Employment Appeals Tribunal. Many criticisms have been leveled at the current system. There are currently many inconsistencies between bodies regarding the degree of formality of hearings and rules of evidence. There are also excessive delays for hearings and little case management. One of the most notable problems with the current system arises in cases where the same set of facts can give rise to multiple claims. Often such claims must be processed through a number of the different bodies which leads to duplication and higher costs.
The Minister plans to streamline the current system into a two tier structure. The proposed changes aim to resolve disputes at an early stage and create a more efficient institutional structure. It is intended to merge the functions of the current bodies into a lower and upper tier. The upper tier will have an appellate function and will be the court of final appeal unless a party wishes to appeal to the High Court on a point of law.
A single website - click here – has been launched to provide information for the employment, equality, equal status and industrial relations areas. In addition a single complaint form has been introduced for disputes referred to the majority of the enforcement bodies.
The Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011
Another important development in 2011 was the publication of the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011. This Bill is intended to give effect to the EU Directive on temporary agency work which was due to be implemented by Member States by 5 December 2011. The purpose of the Directive is to ensure that agency workers are treated equally in relation to basic pay and working conditions, as if they were directly recruited by the hirer to the same job. This Bill, as drafted, is retrospective, presumably to comply with European requirements. It remains to be seen however whether it will remain so when enacted as there has been much speculation that its retrospective nature could render the Bill unconstitutional.
This Bill is currently at draft stage and it is likely that many amendments will be made before its final enactment.
Other developments of note include the introduction of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. Part 6 of this Act amends current equality legislation and provides that, where all parties agree, cases can now be dealt with solely on the basis of submissions, obviating the need for an oral hearing. The Act also extends the powers of the Equality Tribunal to allow for the outsourcing of the functions of equality officers in relation to mediation. It is hoped that these measures will assist in reducing the lengthy delays which are currently being experienced by the Equality Tribunal.
Reform of systems for setting pay and conditions in certain sectors is likely in 2012 following the ruling in the John Grace Fried Chicken Limited case which found that the joint labour committee system was unconstitutional and also that employment regulation orders are unlawful. The Minister is expected to conduct a major overhaul and reform of the JLC and Registered Employment Agreement wage setting mechanisms in 2012.