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Blog  »  February 2015
Feb 15

Posted by
Jennie Hussey

Workplace Relations Bill set to radically overhaul employment disputes

In the new streamlined system, the Workplace Relations Commission will be the one-stop shop

The Workplace Relations Bill 2014, which should be enacted this year, is considered to represent the most substantial revision of the employment law framework. As an overhaul of the engine driving dispute resolution, the legislation seeks to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and simplify a process of referral.
Once existing cases are settled in the current environment, the system should be streamlined and forever replace the current structures of different types of claims that are played out in different arenas.
The amalgamation of these existing theatres – the EAT, the ET, the Labour Relations Commission and the National Employment Rights Authority(NERA) – will all be folded into one; the new Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The appellate functions of the EAT will move to a reconfigured Labour Court which will act as an appeals body for the new WRC. High Court appeals can be lodged on a point of law only. This new system reduces the potential lifespan of a dispute to two full hearings – an initial case and an appeal.
Importantly, the bill also provides for a legally binding early resolution or mediation facility. While participation is not obligatory and parties may opt to proceed straight to adjudication, where it is undertaken it can lead to a pre-arbitration agreement that could prove less costly.
Key to this aspect is confidentiality. For example if an employer offers a settlement but the employee rejects it, the offer cannot be used as an indication of culpability during a later hearing.

Actual adjudication sessions will be held in private before a single officer who will hear the claims against a broad spectrum of employment law considerations.
According to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, adjudicators will be sourced from a “diverse group”, with industrial relations and HR practitioners, employment lawyers and appropriate civil servants all in the mix.

While the thinking behind the legislation is to expedite claims where possible, there must remain room for appeal. In that respect, unwelcome decisions by an adjudicator can be brought to the Labour Court (within 42 days) with full public hearings, and where decisions will be published. The High Court too is available, but only on points of law and so the potential for a string of appeals is severely curtailed.
A reduction in expense is also on the wish list. Costs cannot be awarded to either side in a dispute, meaning legal fees must be met by clients regardless of the outcome. Legal representation is not mandatory. The Department has indicated there will be no fee for referrals to either the adjudication or appeal stage.

Whether or not the new system delivers on the improvements it seeks will not be known until the first cases begin easing their way through the system later in the year.

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