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News & Events

Minister Bruton delivers on Workplace Relations Reform

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD today (Monday) welcomed the signing into law of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and announced that the Act will be commenced on 1st October 2015

Workplace Relations legislation enacted


Workplace Relations Commission to commence from 1st October 2015

The reform of employment rights and industrial relations bodies is a major piece of public service reform and will see the existing five employment rights bodies merged into two bodies:

  • The Workplace Relations Commission will deal with all cases at first instance
  • The Labour Court will deal with all cases on appeal


Through the better use of technology and shared services, the cost of running these bodies will be reduced through staff reductions, eliminating duplication and centralising administration and case management services. This rationalisation will deliver a much better service to the end users, both employers and employees, and at a reduced cost to the state. 
This move forms part of a broader programme of reform being put in place across the Minister’s Department, which will see the total number of agencies reduced by 40, including:

  • Forfás has been amalgamated into the Department of Jobs with the staff of Forfás forming the core of a new Strategic Policy Division within the Department
  • 35 County/City Enterprise Boards have now been legally dissolved – independent legal entities with their own boards and administrative structures – and in their place 31 Local Enterprise Offices have been established within local authorities, to provide better and more services to start-ups and SMEs in every county
  • The merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority to create the Consumer and Competition Protection Commission
  • Transport and enterprise bodies in the Shannon region have been restructured, and Enterprise Ireland and IDA have taken on the enterprise support functions previously exercised by Shannon Development in the area

 

Minister Bruton said: “Reform of the State’s employment rights and industrial relations bodies has two principal goals: to deliver a better service for employers and employees, and to deliver savings for the taxpayer, businesses and workers. We have seen major progress in these areas already, and the formal establishment of the WRC will see further gains. The announcement we are making today is a further important step towards the final delivery of this important reform”. 
The Minister thanked all interested parties for their inputs to this reform process and the management and staff of the five Workplace Relations Bodies and of his Department for their efforts and commitment to date in advancing this reform programme and looks forward to the successful delivery of the new structures and services from October.
ENDS
For further information contact: 
Press Office, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Tel: 01 631 2200, press.office@djei.ie
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Improvements to date
Significant improvement has already been delivered on an administrative basis, to put in place the technological, structural, administrative and staffing changes required to underpin the Workplace Relations Reform Programme. Business processes and associated technologies have been reconfigured while a single point of contact is already in place to deal with all aspects of information provision, complaint receipt, registration, scheduling and case management support generally. Work is also well advanced on the amalgamation of the Early Resolution Service introduced in May 2012 with the Equality Tribunal’s mediation service. This will meet the objective of ensuring that complaints and disputes are dealt with as close to the workplace as possible and prior to costly intervention. 
Mr. Kieran Mulvey has been appointed as Director General Designate of the WRC. The selection process for the new Board of the WRC has been handled by the Public Appointments Service and the Minister will be announcing its membership in the weeks ahead. The selection process for two new Labour Court Deputy Chair positions has been completed through the Public Appointments Service and the process to fill the ordinary member positions of the new Labour Court division is underway.
An e-Complaint Facility, complemented by a single complaint form, currently deals with some 80% of employment rights and equality complaints submitted for adjudication while the single workplace relations website (www.workplacerelations.ie ) and decisions database provide a single source of information for stakeholders and service users. An additional 19 Adjudicators have been selected and trained. They will complement the existing cadre of Rights Commissioners and Equality Officers and are already working to reduce existing backlogs. 
Other improvements include:

  • Transfer of the Equality Tribunal from the Department of Justice and Equality to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in anticipation of its becoming part of the WRC,
  • Establishment of a Single Contact Portal (Workplace Relations Customer Service) and a Post Registration Unit to deal with all aspects of case management insofar as complaints are concerned,
  • Launch of a single Workplace Relations Complaint Form and e-complaint facility,
  • Design and launch of a single Workplace Relations website,
  • Design and launch of a Single Adjudication and Appeals Decisions Database,
  • Completion of selection process for external panel of Adjudicators and of accredited training programme for Adjudicators,
  • Completion of selection process for two new Deputy Chairs of the Labour Court, and
    Implementation of enhanced technologies and business processes, including the completion of the procurement and design of a Customer Relationship Management Solution.

 

Further improvements through Workplace Relations Act
The Workplace Relations Act 2015 provides for the following key measures:

  • The establishment of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) with a full range of functions formerly carried out by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), including Rights Commissioner Service, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA). The Bill will also provide for the Labour Court to be the appellate body to determine, among other matters, appeals against decisions of WRC Adjudication Officers;
  • The transfer of all of the current functions of the Labour Relations Commission to the new WRC (including conciliation, workplace mediation and advisory services);
  • The dissolution of the Labour Relations Commission;
  • The transfer of the functions of the Director of the Equality Tribunal to the Director General of the WRC;
  • The transfer of the functions of the Rights Commissioners & the first instance functions of the EAT to adjudication officers of the WRC;
  • The transfer of the EAT’s appellate functions into a reconfigured Labour Court;
  • Complaints and appeals submitted to the EAT before the commencement date will be disposed of by the EAT. The EAT will be dissolved when it has disposed of all complaints and appeals referred to it before the commencement date;
  • The establishment of the Office of Director General of the WRC; appointment of the Director General by the Minister on specified terms of appointment; the statutory powers and functions of the Director General. Mr Kieran Mulvey, current Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Commission, has been appointed Director General Designate of the Workplace Relations Commission by the Minister.
  • The establishment of the WRC Board with responsibility for strategy and the annual work programme;
  • The early resolution, mediation & adjudication of disputes/complaints under employment & equality (including equal status) legislation;
  • The staffing of the WRC by officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation;
  • A new more transparent system for the appointment of adjudicators of the WRC and Chairmen, Deputy Chairs and Members of the Labour Court;
  • The appointment of additional Deputy Chairmen and Members to the Labour Court to facilitate the increased workload of the Court in the new system;
  • A more effective and streamlined system for the enforcement of awards from WRC Adjudicators and/or the Labour Court under employment rights legislation via the District Court; provision for an offence for non-compliance with an order of the District Court to enforce a decision of the WRC or Labour Court under employment rights legislation;
  • A statutory basis for the use of innovative measures such as Compliance Notices and Fixed Charge Notices to enhance the compliance functions of the WRC;
  • Standardised statement of the powers of inspectors under employment & equality legislation;
  • Standardisation of certain procedural matters across suite of employment rights/employment equality legislation;
  • Necessary and consequential amendments to existing employment, industrial relations, equality and other legislation.
    The Need for Reform
    The previous system for resolving individual disputes related to the workplace was far from optimal, both in terms of timeliness and user and state resources required. It was also frustrating for employers, employees and professionals representing them. Some of the criticisms of the system have included:
  • Five organisations with overlapping, but completely separate, objectives and operations;
  • So complex that even experienced practitioners find it difficult to comprehend;
    Claims could be referred to the wrong forum or under the wrong statute: they could even become statute barred before the error is discovered;
  • Lack of consistency regarding the degree of formality of hearings, rules of evidence and the use of adversarial or inquisitorial procedures;
    Overly legalistic with many users feeling the need to incur significant legal expenses;
  • A single set of circumstances could give rise to a number of claims processed through different fora;
  • Different routes of appeal arising out of the same set of circumstances in the same employment;
    Variations in how compensation is calculated and reasons for decisions;
  • Duplication resulting in “forum shopping”;
  • Delays excessive and poor value for money.
    There was universal acceptance of the need for major reform of the current processes. 
    Consultations
    The Minister has undertaken two extensive public consultation exercises with regard to the proposed reform of the existing workplace relations structures. In 2011, the Minister undertook a public consultation process that concluded in September 2011. The responses, overall, demonstrated a strong consensus around the need for reform and the shape that reform should take. The many positive suggestions that emerged from that process helped to inform the design and delivery of the reform to date. They also influenced the proposals set out in the “Blueprint to Deliver a World-Class Workplace Relations Service” published by the Minister in April, 2012. 
    The Blueprint document set out, in considerable detail, how it was proposed to reform the workplace relations structures and processes and the Minister published the Blueprint in order to provide a further opportunity for consultation. All contributions and submissions received careful consideration and helped inform the preparation of the Scheme of the Bill and the Policy Document “Legislating for a World-Class Workplace Relations Service” which the Minister published in July 2012.
    The Policy document ‘Legislating for a World Class Workplace Relations Service’ was submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in July, 2012 and the Minister had a constructive dialogue with the Committee in July, 2012 on the basis of the document. 
    Reform Objectives

The objectives of the Workplace Relations Reform Programme are:

  • to deliver a world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial and cost-effective,
  • to provide for workable means of redress and enforcement within a reasonable period, and
  • to reduce costs.
    The reforms are underpinned by a core two-tier structure, comprising a new single body of first instance, the Workplace Relations Commission, and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court.
    Progress to date
    Significant progress was achieved, in advance of the enactment of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, insofar as the technological, structural, administrative and staffing changes required to underpin the Workplace Relations Reform Programme are concerned, including the following measures which have already been put in place:
    Work will be proceeding at an accelerated pace over the coming months on progressing a comprehensive programme of work to ensure that our workplace relations services are business ready for Establishment Day. This includes the preparation of regulations around critical procedures, finalisation of accommodation and hearings venues, finalising arrangements for the introduction of compliance notices and fixed charge notices in support of inspection activities, the transitioning of e-business, the phasing out of ICT systems in line with the rationalisation of services and implementing the proposed Customer Relationship Management Solution to support complaints and adjudication management. Key senior management positions will be fully aligned with the new structure and processes.
    Structures
    Two statutorily independent bodies will replace the current five. We will have a new single body of first instance to be called the Workplace Relations Commission and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court.
    The new Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will incorporate the functions of the Labour Relations Commission (including the Rights Commissioner Service), the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (first instance jurisdiction only), and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA). 
    All first instance complaints will be made to the Workplace Relations Commission. All appeals will be to the Labour Court, with the only further appeal being to the High Court on a point of law (with the exception that appeals under the Equal Status Acts will be to the Circuit Court). 
    The Labour Court will be retained as a stand-alone statutory body and will be the single appellate body to deal with all appeals from the WRC. The Labour Court will continue to deliver all of its existing services (other than the small number of first instance functions transferring to the WRC) in addition to taking on the appellate functions of the EAT. The Labour Court will be given the necessary additional resources to fulfil this role. 
    Complaints and appeals submitted to the EAT before the commencement date will be disposed of by the EAT. The EAT will be dissolved when it has disposed of all complaints and appeals referred to it before the commencement date. 
    Programme Delivery Group:
    An Implementation Team was established within the Minister’s Department to lead the change process. This Group, which reports directly to the Minister, was chaired by Kieran Mulvey, Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Commission (and by the Minister himself at regular intervals) and comprised the Secretary General of the Department, representatives of all the bodies concerned as well as the Department and the Minister’s office. This Group provided the overall governance and management structure for the project and will continue to see the project to completion.