The Workplace Relations Act 2015 (the “Act”) was signed into law by the President on 20 May 2015 and it is presently anticipated that the Act will be commenced with effect from 1 July 2015.

The Act marks the completion of a substantial period of review and  public consultation which commenced in 2011 with the introduction of the programme of reform by Minister Richard Bruton. The Government’s objective is to deliver a world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, impartial, cost effective and provides for a workable means of redress and enforcement within a reasonable period of time.

The Act constitutes the most substantial revision of the Irish employment law framework since the introduction of the various dispute resolution bodies. Once commenced, it will transform the manner in which employment and equality disputes are dealt with in Ireland. Under the current system for resolving workplace disputes in Ireland, different employment law rights must be enforced in separate fora. This can give rise to a multiplicity of claims involving the same parties appearing before a number of fora. In this regard, the Act will create a new single framework for the resolution of employment and equality disputes in Ireland.

The key reforms contained in the Act are as follows:

  • The establishment of a new body, the Workplace Relations Commission (the “WRC”), which will amalgamate the existing services of the Labour Relations Commission (“LRC”), the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Equality Tribunal and the first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (the “EAT”) and the Labour Court. The WRC will have general responsibility for the promotion and improvement of industrial and employmentrelations;
  • The appointment of a new position of Director General of the WRC who shall bear responsibility for the overall management and operations of the WRC. Kieran Mulvey, current Chief Executive Officer of the LRC, will be appointed Director General of the WRC;
  • The transfer of all of the existing functions of the LRC (including  industrial relations conciliation, advisory services and workplace mediation) to the WRC;
  • The dissolution of the LRC and the EAT following their disposal of all legacy first instance complaints and appeals referred to them prior to the establishment of the WRC;
  • The creation of a new two-tier workplace relations structure, comprising of the WRC, which will deal with workplace complaints in the first instance, and an expanded and reconfigured Labour Court, which will deal with all cases on appeal from the WRC;
  • Claims at first instance will be heard by a single Adjudication Officer of the WRC sitting in private and every decision of the Adjudication Officer shall be published on the internet in such form and in such manner as the WRC considers appropriate (other than information that would identify the parties in relation to whom the decision was made);
  • Decisions of the Labour Court, on appeal of a decision of an Adjudication Officer, may be appealed on a point of law only to the High Court;
  • The implementation of an early resolution /mediation service to facilitate the early resolution of disputes, allowing parties to enter into legally binding and enforceable  agreements;
  • The standardisation of limitation periods for the referral of a dispute under employment legislation to six months, extendable to twelve months where “reasonable cause” is shown;
  • The ability to deal with certain complaints by written submissions only. Where the Director General forms the opinion that a dispute or complaint can be dealt with in this manner, he may inform the parties of his intention not  to hold a hearing. Either party may then object to this within 42 days. Similar provisions apply in respect of the Labour Court;
  • New procedures for the enforcement of awards of an Adjudication Officer or the Labour Court through the District Court; and
  • Increased powers in the inspectorate functions of the WRC, including the introduction of two new compliance measures, a Compliance Notice and a Fixed Payment Notice, to promote higher levels of compliance amongst employers with  employment  legislation.