The 2017 Annual Report of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) indicates a significant increase in the number of unannounced workplace inspections and penalties imposed on employers found to be in breach of employment law.
The Workplace Relations Commission Information Service answered over 52,000 calls in 2017, 70% of which came from employers. Over a third of queries related to employment permit issues.
A total of 14,000 complaints were received in 2017, with a particular spike in the number of complaints received in September. Pay-related issues were the most common type of complaint, accounting for 27% of the total complaints received. Unfair dismissal complaints were second at 14%, with complaints relating to working time accounting for 13%.
Unsurprisingly given the media focus on gender issues over the last year, the number of gender-related discrimination complaints increased quite notably by 61%. It will be interesting to see how this trend continues, particularly as new legislation on mandatory pay gap reporting is set to come into force later this year. It is expected that this legislation will require employers with more than 250 employees to disclose specific details of the gender pay gap within their companies. Employers who report significant gender pay gaps inevitably risk an increase in equal pay and discrimination claims.
Conciliation and mediation
The WRC Conciliation Service facilitated 26% more cases than last year. It also played a key role in the successful conclusion of the Public Sector Stability Agreement. This agreement is the outcome of discussions facilitated by the WRC relating to the extension of the Lansdowne Road Agreement and the previous Public Service Agreements.
The take-up of mediation services offered by the WRC doubled.
The Adjudication Service has received a mixed response from service users, with concerns raised around administrative difficulties, late notifications and inconsistency in how hearings are being conducted. The Report notes the WRC has been extensively engaging with stakeholders to review its procedures and service issues, with a view to achieving consistency and improvement in its services.
In terms of positive steps, the report highlights:
- A continued reduction in waiting times, for both hearings and determinations. In 2017, the average waiting time for hearings was 97 days, with 92% of complaints processed in less than six months
- An increase in the number of adjudication decisions 2,247 (up 82% from last year)
- A 24% increase in the number of adjudication hearings which took place
Interestingly, more than half of complainants were represented at hearings.
Inspection, enforcement and prosecution
The WRC Inspection and Enforcement Services monitors employment conditions to ensure compliance with, and where necessary, enforcement of, employment rights legislation.
According to the Report, the WRC Inspection and Enforcement Services concluded 4,747 inspections, covering 99,000 employees. Notably for employers, 58% of inspections were unannounced.
Almost half of the employers inspected were found to be in breach of employment legislation to some degree, with the most common breach being a failure to keep adequate employment records.
125 employers were prosecuted for breaches of employment law, and over €1.77million of unpaid wages was recovered, some €270,000 more than in 2016.
The WRC has received some criticism from employment law practitioners and stakeholders since its establishment in October 2015. However, the Report sheds light on the progress being made, and on the considerable volume of inquiries which the WRC is receiving. The WRC’s continued commitment to working with interested parties to improve the level of service offered is particularly welcome.
For employers, the Report highlights the most common sources of complaints and breaches of employment law. It also highlights the WRC’s increased appetite for unannounced workplace inspections and for taking enforcement action. Employers who wish to avoid potential claims and penalties for non-compliance with employment law should proactively review their records and HR systems to ensure they are ‘inspection ready’, should the WRC come calling.