On 30 July 2014, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published the Workplace Relations Bill 2014 (the Bill). The objective of this Bill is to reform workplace relations bodies, delivering a "world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial, cost effective and provides for a workable means of redress and enforcement, within a reasonable period of time".
The main reforms proposed in the Bill are as follows:
- The establishment of a new Workplace Relations Commission (the WRC), which will carry out the functions currently vested in the Labour Relations Commission, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (at first instance) and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA). The WRC will deal with workplace complaints in the first instance.
- The Labour Court will be the single appeal body for all workplace relations appeals, including those currently heard by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The Labour Court will be expanded to deal with its new jurisdiction.
- The position of Director General, who will bear responsibility for the management and business of the WRC, shall be created.
- Decisions of the Labour Court, on appeal from a decision of an Adjudication Officer, may be appealed to the High Court on a point of law only.
- 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 to resort to formal adjudication where possible. The outcome of these processes may result in legally binding and enforceable agreements.
- Where a complaint or dispute cannot be resolved by either of these mechanisms then the matter will be referred for adjudication before a single adjudication officer sitting in private.
- Limitation periods for the referral of a dispute under employment legislation will be standardised to six months. This can be extended to twelve months where "reasonable cause" can be shown.
- The introduction of new compliance measures – a Compliance Notice and a Fixed Payment Notice. These notices are designed to promote higher levels of compliance amongst employers.
- New procedures will be implemented for the enforcement of awards of an Adjudication Officer or the Labour Court through the District Court.
The Bill, in replacing the existing outdated system for resolving workplace disputes and industrial relations complaints in Ireland, will have a significant impact on how employment rights in Ireland will be protected. It provides the potential to streamline the current somewhat confusing and often complex situation, where parties to a dispute engage in "forum shopping". It also promises to reduce the costs involved in dealing with different complaints arising from the same set of facts.
Indications are that the legislation will be enacted by the end of 2014. We will provide a further update as the Bill progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas.