Previous Bodies

Overview of Previous Bodies

The State has established a number of Tribunals, Commissioners and other bodies over time in the employment sphere. Most of these bodies have now been merged and combined into the Workplace Relations Commission. See the section on the Workplace Relations Commission.

Some such bodies dealt with collective matters in the industrial relations area while others were involved in the investigation and determination of breaches of employment rights in an individual case.  The formality of procedure adopted by these bodies varied.  Some acted very informally, whereas others adopted procedures similar to those of a court of law.

There was some crossover between industrial relations bodies and those which decided legal rights under employment legislation.  In particular, Rights Commissioners and the Labour Court had a role both in industrial relations and conciliation matters and in dispute resolution at the individual employee level. The Labour Court has been retained as such and has functions in both spheres.

These functions have now been transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. Most individual employment rights are dealt with by WRC adjudication officers. There is an appeal to the Labour against the decision of an adjudication officer.

Rights Commissioners and Trade Disputes I

Rights Commissioners operated under the auspices of the Labour Court and latterly the Labour Relations Commission.  They had functions are under a range of industrial relations and employment rights legislation.  Generally, Rights Commissioners investigate disputed matters, more informally than other employment law bodies. They do not generally act in public.

A wide range of legislation conferred Rights Commissioners with either the exclusive or concurrent power with another body to determine disputes.  This includes legislation in the following areas.

  • Industrial Relations matters;
  • Unfair dismissal matters;
  • Payment of wages, including minimum wage matters;
  • Maternity, parental and adoptive leave rights;
  • Working hours’ complaint.

Rights Commissioners and Trade Dsputes II

Rights Commissioners investigated work based trade disputes (other than certain categories of trade disputes or potential disputes) which existed or were apprehended.  Either the employer or employee could refer the matter to a Rights Commissioner.

The Commissioner could investigate the matter, unless it was already covered by a Labour Court recommendation or either party gives notice within 21 days, of an objection to the investigation.  Upon completion of the investigation, the Commissioner made a recommendation in relation to the merits of the dispute.

These functions have now been transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. Most individual employment rights are dealt with be WRC adjudication officers. There is an appeal to the Labour against the decision of an adjudication officer.

Rights Commissioners Former Adjudicative Capacity

There was a range of legislation, under which complaints could be investigated by Rights Commissioners. Generally, the complaint was made in writing within a prescribed period, in accordance with the format laid down by the relevant legislation. The Commissioner could convene a hearing at which the parties were heard. He determined the matter on the basis of submissions and evidence.

Unfair dismissal claims could be referred to a Rights Commissioner or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.  The Rights Commissioner could not hear the claim, if the EAT had custody of it, had decided the matter, or if either party objected, within 21 days, to the matter being heard by a Rights Commissioner.

The Commissioner could examine the parties to the dispute. He could require the production of documents.  Alternatively, submissions could be invited, verbally or in writing. Submissions to a Rights Commissioner could be made in person or through an employee representative, such as a trade union official.

Rights Commissioners did not have the power to require evidence to be given under oath or to compel witnesses to answer questions or produce documents.  They could not award costs.

Employment Appeals Tribunal I

The Employment Appeals Tribunal consists of a chairman, 35 vice chairman and a panel of approximately 80 other members half of whom are nominated by employer’s representatives and half by employee representatives.  An EAT consisted of a chairman and vice chairman together with an employer and an employee representative.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) heard disputes under a range of legislation. It adopted a more formal procedure that the Rights Commissioner service. The EAT originated under redundancy payments legislation and was originally the Redundancy Appeals Tribunal.  It was renamed in 1977 as the Employment Appeals Tribunal on the commencement of the Unfair Dismissals Act.

The EAT heard disputes on individual rights in many of the same areas as Rights Commissioners. A statement was required in the initial claim that the person objected to the matter being dealt with by a Rights Commissioner.

Employment Appeals Tribunal II

The EAT heard appeals from Rights Commissioners on a range of legislation.  Notice of the appeal was required to be given within a set time of the original determination.  The time limits varied under the various pieces of protective legislation.

Unfair dismissals claims represented the bulk of EAT work. Many unfair dismissals claim also incorporated claims under minimum notice, holiday leave, redundancy wages and other legislation.

These functions have now been transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. Most individual employment rights are dealt with by WRC adjudication officers. There is an appeal to the Labour against the decision of an adjudication officer.

EAT Procedure

Each piece of employment legislation laid down the requirements and time limits for commencing a claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The regulations specified what was required to be comprised in the appeal documentation. Once the appeal commenced, the procedures were broadly the same as that in a case heard directly by the Tribunal.

The unfair dismissals legislation requires certain details and prescribed format to be given. In practice, claims could be made under a number of pieces of employment legislation in a single set of proceedings which were heard together

Time limits applied which varied from a number of weeks to six months.  The legislation set out the extent to which the appeal must be set out in the relevant appeal form. Most claims were required to be commenced within 6 months. An extension of time was permitted on application to the Tribunal in most cases.

The notice of claim was sent to the other party who was titled the respondent.  The respondent had 14 days from receipt of the claim form to appear in response to the claim.   A statement was required to be sent to the Tribunal.

The Tribunal could require the parties to set out details in writing of their claim by way of expansion upon the notice of claim or notice of appearance by the parties respectively.

EAT Hearing

The EAT generally sat in public. If could decide to hear the matter in private at the parties’ request.  Its procedures were similar to those of a court.  It could hear evidence formally and could require the attendance of persons.  It could compel production of documents.

The procedure in the Employment Appeals Tribunal was broadly similar to that in the courts.  Parties made an opening statement.  They then called their witnesses who were examined by the party or his representative. The other party or his representative could cross-examine the witness concerned.

The other party could call and examine his witnesses. The other party could then cross-examine that witness.  Each party or his representative could address the tribunal at the completion of evidence.

The WRC adjudication process is intended to be less formal and more inquisitorial in nature.


The Equality Tribunal enforced a range of equality legislation, both in the employment sphere and more generally. These functions have now been transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. Most individual employment rights are dealt with be WRC adjudication officers. There is an appeal to the Labour against the decision of an adjudication officer.

The Equality Tribunal and the Director of the Equality Tribunal performed a range of functions under equality legislation.  The authority had general obligations and functions to promote equality and eliminate discrimination.  It provided information to the public.

The Equality Authority prepared codes of practice in order to eliminate employment discrimination and promote equality.  It conducted enquiries and had the power to summon a witness or require that to produce information and documents.

Former Equality Complaints Procedure I

A complaint could be made by a person, who claimed to have suffered discrimination. It was commenced by a form in the prescribed format.  Generally, the claim had to be made within six months, subject to extension in exceptional circumstances to up to 12 months.

The initial complaint is made to the Tribunal which considered whether it came within the terms of the relevant legislation.  The Tribunal’s secretary could request further information if the claim did not appear to have a basis under the legislation.  It could dismiss or uphold the complaint.

An officer of the Equality Tribunal could form the view that resolution of the complaint by mediation was appropriate.  Reference could be made to an equality mediator.  If either party objected, or if the Director of the Tribunal considered it inappropriate, the case was referred for investigation to an equality officer.

Former Equality Complaints Procedure II

The equality officer sought details of the complaints in writing.  They were furnished to the respondent who was requested to respond within a period.  Equality officers had the power to require the production of documents.  Persons with relevant information were required to attend the hearing and answer questions fully and honestly.  Although there were powers to compel the attendance of witnesses, the procedure was investigatory, rather than adversarial in nature.

The equality officer undertook the hearing. He could ask questions on the basis of what was advanced by the parties.  The parties must be given the opportunity to make their points, and to comment on points made by the other party. Witnesses were heard successively and in the absence of other witnesses, if appropriate. A party to equality proceedings could represent himself, be represented by another person or by a legal representative.

Former Labour Court Role; largely preserved

The Labour Court played a role both in conciliation in industrial relations matters and in the determination of certain individual complaints and disputes, arising in an employment context.  It heard appeals from Rights Commissioners under the industrial relations disputes, wages, working hours and certain other legislation.  It heard appeals from the Equality Tribunal.

Generally, an appeal was required to be commenced within a certain period. The period was commonly six weeks, although it depended on the particular legislation.  The relevant forms for commencing the appeal and the procedures for taking the appeal were laid down in the relevant legislation.  The appeal was a complete re-hearing of the complaint.

The Labour Court could require and receive evidence under oath.  It could compel persons to attend as witnesses and require the production of documents.  The Court determined its own procedures. It was required of necessity to comply with the principles of constitutional justice and fair procedures.

The procedure was less adversarial and more inquisitorial than a civil court procedure.  The court could take the initiative in putting questions. It was not limited to what the party’s representatives asked.  The Court could require written submissions prior to the hearing.

Parties could present, question and examine witnesses, cross-examine each other’s witness and comment on the points made by the other party.

Applicants could represent themselves or be represented by a trade union, employers’ association or legal representative.

Former Circuit Court Enforcement

The Circuit Court exercised jurisdiction in a range of employment matters.  It heard cases itself, typically on appeal. It also enforced orders of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Employment equality claims could be referred to the Circuit Court on the basis of gender discrimination in substitution for a reference to the Director of the Equality Tribunal.

The Circuit Court rules prescribe a form of Employment Law Civil Bill in relation to statutory employment disputes.  Within 10 days of the service of the Civil Bill, an appearance is required. Within a further 10 days, a defence is required. Cases are heard in the Circuit Court in accordance with general civil procedure.

There was an appeal to the Circuit Court from decisions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.  The appeal was a rehearing.  It was required to be taken within six weeks.  The Circuit Court rules prescribe the procedure for the appeal.  Appeals are heard in a normal way on the basis of oral evidence.

Former National Employment Rights Authority (NERA)

The National Employment Rights Authority was established under the social partnership framework “Towards 2016”. It was established on an interim basis in 2007. Its purpose was to promote employment law compliance.   In particular, it sought to protect vulnerable employees.

An Employment Rights Compliance Bill was introduced in 2008, but was never enacted.  NERA operated on a  provisional non-statutory basis.  NERA’s functions have now passed to the WRC Inspectorate and have been put on a statutory basis.

NERA provided information to employers and employees through its information unit.  The NERA website provided a range of information for employees and employers. Information was provided through a hotline, response to written queries by presentations, booklets and over the Internet.


NERA  monitored employee conditions and operated inspection services.  It had powers to enforce compliance and seek redress. NERA took over inspection functions under a wide range of legislation.  Its inspectors had powers under a range of legislation ranging from working hours, parental maternity leaves, protection of young persons, redundancy payments, minimum wages and equivalent legislation.

NERA had the power to enter premises at reasonable times. It could demand records and inspect them.  It could take copies of records.  Persons interviewed are obliged to provide the requisite information.

NERA enforced compliance with legislation and sought to ensure the rectification of breaches.  Where there had been serious or unremedied breaches, it undertook prosecutions. It had the power to apply to courts to enforce Labour Court and EAT  determination.


Rights Commissioners did not have the power to order the payment of costs and expenses. The Employment Appeals Tribunal, Labour Court, and Equality Tribunal officers could order the payment of costs, subject to certain conditions.  The Tribunal could make an order in respect of expenses. It did not award costs, irrespective of the attendance of legal, trade union or employer representatives. There were various other provisions, which allowed bodies to order payment of expenses in particular contexts.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal and other bodies above were not courts, and their orders were not automatically enforceable.  The legislation provided that where an order was not obeyed, an application could be made to a court, usually the Circuit Court. The court could make an order in terms of the Tribunal’s order, automatically and without consideration of the merits of the matter.

The recommendation of a Rights Commissioner could be confirmed by the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Labour Court (depending on the relevant legislation) for the purpose of enforcement.

Certain determinations were enforced by the District Court. The District Court rules provide the procedure.

Employment Appeals Tribunal decisions were subject to confirmation by the Circuit Court.  Similar provisions applied in the context of other employment rights legislation.

References and Sources

Primary References

Employment Law  Meenan  2014 Ch. 24

Employment Law Supplement Meenan 2016 Ch.24A

Employment Law Regan & Murphy  2009  Ch.22 ( 2nd Ed 2017)

Employment Law in Ireland Cox & Ryan 2009 Ch.2

Dismissal Law in Ireland  Redmond 2007 Ch.10

Other Irish Books

Employment Law Forde & Byrne 2009

Principles of Irish Employment Law          Daly & Doherty         2010


Workplace Relations Act 2015 (No.16)

Industrial Relations Act 1946 (No. 26)

Industrial Relations Act 1969 (No. 14)

Industrial Relations Act 1976 (No. 15)

Industrial Relations Act 1990 (No. 19)

Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 (No. 11)

Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 (No. 4)

Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 (No. 32)

Periodicals and Reports

Employment Law Yearbook (annual) Arthur Cox

Employment Law Reports

Irish Employment Law Journal

Employment Law Review

Legislative Guides

Dismissal & Redundancy Consolidated Legislation      Barrett, G       2007

Irish Employment legislation (Looseleaf) Kerr     1999-

Employment Rights Legislation (IEL offprint)      Kerr     2006

Dismissal & Redundancy Consolidated Legislation  Barrett, G        2007

Principles of Irish Employment Law Daly & Doherty          2010

Termination & Redundancy, What is the law?          Hayes, Barry & O’Mara          2005

Termination of Employment Statutes (IEL)   Kerr     2016

Termination of Employment: Practical Guide for Employers            Purdy  2011

Shorter Guides

Employment Law Nutshell Donovan, D   2016

Employees: Know Your Rights      Eardly 2008

Essentials of Irish Labour Law      Faulkner        2013


Workplace Relations Commission

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

Health and Safety Authority

UK Texts

Textbook on Employment Law, Honeyball, et al. 13th Ed. 2014

Labour Law, Deakin and Morris 5th Ed. 2012

Employment Law, Smith and Wood 13th Ed 2017

Selwyn’s law of Employment Emir A 19 Ed. 2016

Employment law : the essentials. Lewis D Sargeant M and Schwab M 11 Ed.2011

Labour Law Collins H, Ewing K D and McColgan  2012

Industrial relations law reports. (IRLR): Law Section,

Employment law Benny R Jefferson M and Sargent  5th Ed.  2012

Pitt’s Employment Law 10th  Ed. Gwyneth Pitt   2016

CLP Legal Practice Guides: Employment Law 2016 Gillian Phillips, Karen Scott

Cases and Materials on Employment Law 10th  Ed. Richard Painter, Ann E. M. Holmes 2015

Blackstone’s Statutes on Employment Law 2015 – 2016 Richard Kidner

UK Practitioner Services

Tolley’s Employment Handbook 2017 Mrs Justice Slade 2017

Butterworths Employment Law Handbook 2017 Peter Wallington 2017

Blackstone’s Employment Law Practice 2017 Edited by Gavin Mansfield, John Bowers, John Macmillan 2017

UK Periodicals and Reports

The Employment Law Review 8th  Ed.   Erika C. Collins 2017

Industrial Relations Law Reports

Employment Law in Context: Text and Materials 2nd  Ed. David Cabrelli 2016