Employment law survey finds wide dissatisfaction with Workplace Relations Act

Dr Brian Barry
Dr Brian Barry

A substantial number of legal and industrial relations practitioners are dissatisfied with the reforms introduced by the Workplace Relations Act 2015, a survey for the Employment Law Association of Ireland (ELAI) has found.

The findings are being published to mark a year since the legislation replaced a complex array of legal entities with a streamlined system including the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and Labour Court.

One in every two practitioners believes the two-tier workplace disputes system is worse than the old system, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of practitioners believe the format of the WRC’s adjudication hearings is inconsistent, meaning they are unable to advise clients on basic issues relating to the format of a hearing.

Three in five are also dissatisfied with how the WRC processes complaints and schedules hearings, and one in three believe the availability of mediation services is not sufficient to meet demand.

However, the majority - three in five - of practitioners are satisfied with the competence of the Labour Court and the quality of its rulings.

The research was conducted by ELAI committee member Dr Brian Barry, a law lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology.

The 139 respondents to the survey included 43 barristers, 38 trade union representatives, 36 solicitors, 13 employer organisation representatives, three in-house solicitors and six ‘others’.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Barry said: “This survey indicates that practitioners are experiencing significant difficulties with the new system for resolving workplace disputes, particularly at the WRC.

“These difficulties affect workers and employers in dispute over important employment rights issues such as unfair dismissal claims, workplace discrimination and maternity leave entitlements.

“The positive outcome of this research is that we now know precisely where the problems lie and steps can be taken by the government to address them, so that the new system can work effectively and fairly for all users.”

ELAI chair Colleen Cleary added: “The ELAI is passionate about ensuring we have an adjudication system which is ‘world-class’. This is what we were promised by the previous Minister who ushered in the changes.

“The inconsistencies we have identified are going on under the radar so it is incumbent on the ELAI not only to highlight them, but to chart a way forward to achieve change, and this will require additional investment.

“In this context, we look forward to working with the present Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor, to help ensure that we have a system which we can be proud of and results in access to justice for all.”

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