What is the Background to the Proposals?

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has announced proposals to merge the five employment rights fora – the Labour Relations Commission, Rights Commissioner, National Employment Rights Authority, Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Labour Court.  The Minister has published the submissions received as part of the consultation process seeking opinions on the form and content of such a merger.

A key objective of the merger is to create an institutional structure with a single entry point for claims and a single accessible advice and information service. The claims institution would ideally be made up of one body dealing with matters of first instance and another body dealing with appeals, with a common format for the lodging and management of claims.

The need for streamlining the current system has been referred to in previous ezine articles. The Minister has referred to the “…bewildering complexity…” faced by employees seeking to make claims to the employment law fora and the difficulties and costs faced by employers having to defend claims. There are also significant delays before claims lodged with any of the employment fora are heard. It is hoped that the single entry point for claims would minimise the current practice of forum shopping by claimants and to avoid a situation where employers have to deal with duplicate claims based on the same set of facts.

Director of NERA, Mr. Ger Deering, has been given responsibility for coordinating the merger. An implementation group has been established within the Department to manage this process.

What are the current measures being proposed?

Measures proposed as part of the merger of fora include:

  • a single website which will provide employment law information to employers and employees which will eventually replace the individual websites of the five fora referred to above. The Minister plans to have this integrated website in place by the end of June 2012.
  • Resolution of disputes at workplace level and appropriate interventions being made available such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration. This would minimise the number of cases presenting for resolution at formal hearings. The Minister has noted a broad consensus among the stakeholder submissions in relation to the need for early intervention in order to resolve disputes prior to hearings, by means of mediation or conciliation at the earliest possible stage in almost all disputes.
  • The appointment of 5 County Registrars as Vice Chairs of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, to utilise the existing resources of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Court Services. It is anticipated that any transfer of personnel will be facilitated through the Croke Park Agreement.

It is not known whether the merger will, at this stage, provide for an alternative dispute resolution mechanism (such as mediation or arbitration) to resolve disputes between employees and employers.

When is the merger likely to happen?

It remains to be seen whether some or all of the proposals in relation to the merging of the fora will have the support of those who use them such as employees, employers, lawyers, HR and Industrial Relations practitioners, for whom the proposals will inevitably have the greatest impact. The Minister has announced a timeline for the merger, ultimately the new systems are to be embedded and operational by the end of 2013. It does, however, remain to be seen when the merged institutions will in fact come into being, given the volume of employment statutes and the numerous regulations under such statutes which will need to be amended in order to give effect to the merger.