Reform of Irish Tribunals Put Before the Oireachtas Committee

Peninsula Team

July 27 2012

On 06th July 2012, Minister Richard Bruton forwarded a submission entitled ‘Legislating For A World-Class Workplace Relations Service’ to the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Essentially for the last 12 months Minister Bruton has engaged in an exhaustive effort to source as much information and feedback as possible from experts on how the current Irish employment dispute resolution system may best be reformed. Indeed, Peninsula Business Services have been quite involved in the reform process and have liaised with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) through a series of reform submissions. However, this submission to the Oireachtas Committee would appear to mark the end of this consultation process and Minister Bruton, it would seem, has settled on a proposed new system which he now inviting the Committee to review and comment upon. Accordingly, it is extremely likely that the vast majority of what Minister Bruton has included in his submission will form the backbone of the new employment dispute resolution procedure. Accordingly, it is important that all employers familiarise themselves with the proposals as this will be the system that employers will be expected to work with in the event of any employee dispute issues. Regular subscribers to the Bottom Line Express will no doubt have noted the regular article pieces from Peninsula on the proposals for reform to date so in this piece we will largely focus on the new additions that have been included in the submission since our last update in our April edition (“Blueprint-to-Deliver-a-World-Class-Workplace-Relations-Service”.html)

Key Principles Behind the Reform Process

Minister Bruton has outlined the key principles which have motivated the reform process and it is a useful practice to identify these as these principles outline how the system is intended to operate:

·         To promote harmonious workplaces and a culture of compliance with employment law

·         To reduce the number of disputes within the workplace and, where they do arise, provide assistance to resolve them at the earliest possible date

·         To deliver a responsive user-friendly service

·         To deliver value for money for the tax payer and reduce costs for employers and employees

·         To eliminate procedural overlaps and institutional confusion.

Registration of Claims

One aspect of the current system that Peninsula has harshly criticised was the requirement for employers and employees, and their respective representatives, to attend for claim hearings when those claims were clearly out of time and void. In addition, Peninsula has strongly criticised the fact that a series of employees could take effectively the same claim and the employer would have to attend multiple hearings on the same issue with different employees. Accordingly, it is with warm welcome that Minister Bruton has submitted that the claim Registration Service:

·         “inform complainants of any such infirmity in their complaint at as early a stage as possible. It is in the interest of both parties and the State that efficiency is introduced into the system by obviating the need to convene a full hearing to deal with such procedural matters.”

·         “recommend to the parties concerned that particular complaints be combined into a multi-party hearing. This option could possibly be exercised … where it is apparent that multiple complaints of a similar nature … are being lodged against a single employer, or associated employers.”


It has also been submitted that the Registrar will monitor the detail included in these complaints and contact the claimant if there is deemed to be insufficient detail. Peninsula also went to lengths to highlight this issue as it often left employers completely unsure of what exactly they were being accused of.  

Early Resolution of Employment Disputes

From the submission it is clear that a range of complaints were received objecting to the proposed use of telephone mediation services when dealing with a workplace dispute on the basis that this would not be as effective as face-to-face mediation or conciliation. Minister Bruton has recognised that this may be the case but went on to highlight the range of powers that Early Resolution Officers will have at their disposal:

•              Parties to a claim will be offered early resolution and if they opt for it they will then be assigned to a Case Resolution Officer.

•              The Case Resolution Officer will contact the parties or their representatives in order to help establish the facts at issue and explore with all parties how it might be resolved without a formal hearing/inspection.

•              Readers are urged to review our article from our June edition on mediation for details on how an early resolution process would operate -

WRC Adjudication of Complaints

As highlighted in our previous updates on the reform process, the backbone of the system will be a new two-tiered dispute system where all claims will be heard at first instance by one body and then any appeal will then go to a second appeals body. This system will essentially result in the merging of the Labour Court, Rights Commissioner, Equality Tribunal, Employment Appeals Tribunal and NERA into two bodies. 

•              Importantly, it is proposed going forward that all disputes of first instance will be heard in private by the Workplace Relations Commission by one single adjudicator. As a reference to those employers that have utilised the system before, this will reflect the practices adopted by the Rights Commissioner service currently which also involve just one adjudicator who will hear claims in private.

•              A major criticism of the current system that Peninsula outlined was the often complete failure of tribunal officers to outline why they awarded the sum of money that they did. As our most recent submission noted, “[a]s it stands, it would seem that Tribunal Officers pick compensatory award figures out of the air on the basis of what they personally deem to be an acceptable amount without providing any breakdown as to why they feel this sum to be appropriate.” Therefore, it is interesting to note that Minister Bruton has proposed that adjudicators “will be required to provide an explanation for the basis of any award (monetary or otherwise) granted to a successful complainant.”

Appeals to the Labour Court

Going forward, the Labour Court will act as the appeals body for all appeals arising from WRC decisions. A number of interesting proposals have been made by Minister Bruton in this regard, which are outlined below:

•              The Labour Court will issue all decision within 42 days of the appeal hearing.

•              A party who fails to attend (or be represented at) a WRC hearing, without reasonable cause, will forfeit their right to appeal to the Labour Court.

•              If either party appeals then they must clearly highlight the grounds upon which they are appealing. The Labour Court may then assess the validity of those grounds before a hearing takes place.

•              Unlike the WRC, all Labour Court hearings will be in public with decision being published on

•              Parties to a Labour Court appeal hearing will no longer have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court and will only be able to appeal to the High Court on a point of law.

•              Also quite interestingly, the submission has noted that the issue of requiring the appealing party to submit a fee for same is still being considered.


An important aspect of the “Blueprint” is the commitment that new Codes of Practice will be drawn to aid employer and employee alike but importantly future Codes of Practice on Disciplinary hearings will take into consideration the small owner-managed business. This is important because as it stands employers in small businesses are being taken to task at dispute hearings on the basis that their disciplinary procedures are flawed whereas the inherent problem is that such a small business cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the existing Code of Practice.

Time Limits for Taking Claims

If any individual wishes to take a claim against their employer for any reason then they have 6 months to take such a claim arising after the date of the alleged maltreatment. This deadline may be extended to 12 months where the claimant can highlight ‘reasonable cause’ for their failure to take a claim within the initial 6 month period. This represents a change in that the vast majority of prior claims had differing initial and extended time limits and now all claims will have a uniform time limit. Having said that, Peninsula are quite disappointed with these time limits as it had lobbied for a 3 month initial time limit with the possibility of an extension to 6 months.

There are some sweeping changes being envisaged for the new system but if any employer has a query relating to either the current or proposed systems then please do not hesitate to seek through our 24 Hour Advice Service on 01 855 50 50 and one of our experienced advisors will be happy to assist.

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