The Workplace Relations Bill 2014 proposes to reform the system for regulating employment rights by abolishing the Equality Authority, National Employment Rights Authority, Labour Relations Commission and the Employment Appeals Tribunal and replacing them with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
The problem with the existing system was that it is so complex that even practitioners had difficulty navigating it; there were long delays scheduling hearings and further delays in issuing decisions; it was open to abuse (Forum Shopping- referring the same case to a number of different bodies) and it could cost €4000 to €10000 to defend a case.
In the new two- tier system complaints will be dealt with in one place by the WRC and the decision may be appealed to the Labour Court. The intention is to break away from the current position, where employment issues end up with one or more time consuming, expensive, adversarial formal hearings. The new system will put the emphasis on the early settlement of disputes, workplace mediation and if necessary, informal, inexpensive, non-adversarial hearings.
To be successful the Government’s reform programme will require a fundamental shift in the mind-set of employers, employees and the members of the WRC and labour Court. The change must be in favour of searching for solutions to the problems in the workplace; where employees and employers are well informed of their rights and responsibilities; and are encouraged to solve problems through negotiation and agreement.
Small businesses are more likely to find themselves the subject of complaints to the WRC and are less likely to have the management skills to conduct formal grievance or disciplinary hearings. It is often the case that their efforts escalate rather than resolve a dispute.