Significant Reform of Ireland’s Employment Law Structures and Procedures

Introduction

The Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton recently announced plans to restructure the current system of employment law enforcement in Ireland. In essence the Minister’s intention is to streamline the current system which currently comprises various industrial relations and employment rights bodies into an integrated two tier structure.

Current criticisms

The bodies of first instance dealing with employment and industrial relations disputes in Ireland currently comprise of the Labour Court, the Labour Relations Commission, Rights Commissioners, NERA, the Equality Tribunal and the Employment Appeals Tribunal. In addition there are over thirty pieces of legislation dealing with industrial relations and employment rights.

Criticisms have been levelled 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. Another notable fault in the current system is that there is no provision for mediation other than in the Equality Acts.

Key objectives

The new two tier structure proposed by the Minister looks to build on the strengths of the current bodies and merge all of their functions into a lower and upper tier. The upper tier will have an appellate function or “interpretive character”. It will be the court of final appeal unless a party wishes to appeal to the High Court on a point of law.

The Minister has listed his objectives for the proposed reforms as follows;

  1. Resolution of grievances and disputes as close to the workplace as possible and as early as possible after they arise.
  2. 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;
  • Minimal scope for “forum shopping” and a system which respects differences between categories/types of cases but not to the point where they are an overriding influence on structure.
  1. Minimising the number of cases that present for resolution at formal hearings through active case progression and an increased range of interventions.

Various bodies have been asked to make submissions on how best to achieve these objectives including the Irish Law Society. The Minister envisages a relatively short consultation phase before the implementation of the proposed reforms takes place.

Conclusion

For some time now, practitioners have spoken about the need for widespread reform of employment rights and industrial relations structures and procedures in Ireland. While we are awaiting confirmation of sign off on the reforms proposed by the Minister it does appear that it is imminent and this meaningful move towards significant reform will be warmly welcomed by practitioners, employers and employees alike.