The Workplace Relations Commission was established on a non-statutory basis in 2012, following a Government decision to reform existing employment rights and industrial relations structures. It seeks to offer a single, independent, impartial, cost-effective means of redress and enforcement for workplace disputes.
The Workplace Relations Act, 2015 placed the Workplace Relations Commission on a statutory basis. It had operated on a non-statutory basis for some years prior to the commencement of the legislation. The legislation dissolved most of the pre-existing employment bodies. The WRC succeeded to the jurisdiction and powers of the replaced bodies. In addition, further general functions were conferred on it.
The pre-existing bodies, the Labour Relations Commission, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Labour Court first instance functions were transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. This was confirmed by the 2015 legislation which formally established the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Commission has general responsibility for the promotion and improvement of industrial and employment relations. The WRC is to take proactive steps to ensure a high level of compliance with employment legislation. It is to promote high standards in the conduct of industrial relations generally. The Commission is to provide workplace relations information and advisory services. It is to be staffed by the officials of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Employment.
The WRC is to provide the necessary facilities and services for the speedy resolution of industrial relations disputes, at an early stage. It is to provide the means for the investigation of employment disputes. It is to seek early intervention by way of adjudication or otherwise, by competent personnel. It seeks to provide an early resolution service for individual complaints.
The Commission is to take proactive steps to ensure high standards of compliance with employment legislation, high standards in the conduct of industrial relations generally and in the provision of services to facilitate speedy resolution of industrial relations disputes at an early stage.
The Commission has a board consisting of the following members, that is to say a chairperson, and eight 8 ordinary members. The chairperson and the ordinary members of the Board are appointed by the Minister.
Of the ordinary members of the Board—
- 2 shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, represent the interests of employees,
- 2 shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, represent the interests of employers,
- one shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, represent the interests of bodies who seek to promote equality in the workplace, and
- 3 shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, have experience and expertise in relation to workplace relations, resolution of disputes in the workplace, employment law or equality law.
There is a transparent system of appointments to the adjudication service and the inspectorate of the Workplace Relations Commission through the Public Appointments Commission. There is to be an open competition for the position of Director General of the Commission. The Public Appointments Service is to hold an open competition, present a panel of three suitable candidates to the Minister, who is to choose the appointee.
The Minister appoints the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission. The Public Appointment Service is to hold an open competition and present a panel of three suitable candidates to the Minister for selection. The office holder is to be independent. He is not to hold the office for more than ten years.
The Director-General is responsible for the management and the business of the WRC. He is responsible to the Minister for the due performance of its functions. He may consult with, or request the advice of the Board of the WRC, on any matter relating to his functions. This does not apply to certain complaints and disputes functions. The WRC may delegate its functions to specified members of the WRC staff.
The Director General and other office holders in the WRC, are to be statutorily independent. They are to hold office for not more than 10 years. The Director-General is responsible for the management and business of the Commission. He is accountable to the Minister in the performance of his functions.
The Director General is accountable to the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas other than the Public Accounts Committee as Accounting Officer. The accounting officer for the Commission is to be the Secretary General of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation.
The WRC Board is to produce strategy statements, which are to be approved by the Minister and laid before the Houses of Oireachtas. The purpose is to help the WRC focus on devising appropriate strategies for the performance of its functions.
The Board is to prepare an annual work program in consultation with the Director-General. It is to be submitted to the Minister, to assist the planned work programmes in order to achieve the objectives in the strategy statements.
The Director-General is to make an Annual Report to the Minister. He must prepare such other reports, as the Minister may require.
An appropriate, qualified and experienced lawyer is to be appointed as Registrar of the Commission. The Minister may appoint such persons to the staff as he or she deems appropriate for the efficient running of the Commission and for the discharge of its functions.
The existing employment bodies were dissolved by the WRC legislation. It provided for the replacement of the Labour Relations Commission, the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Equality Authority, Employment Appeals Tribunal and the first instance functions of the Labour Court by the Workplace Relations Commission.
All functions of the Labour Relations Commission were transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. This included the industrial relations conciliation service, the industrial relations advisory training and research service and workplace mediation service.
Functions in relation to the review and monitoring of industrial relations, the preparation of codes of practice in consultation with the social partners, industrial relations research and publications, the organisation of seminars, conferences on industrial relations and HR issues were transferred to the WRC. The WRC legislation provides a statutory basis for the publication of codes of practice in employment and industrial relations matters, in consultation with the Minister.
All existing conciliation and workplace mediation and advisory services of the Labour Court were transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. The WRC took over the functions of the Labour Relations Commission. This included its industrial relations, conciliation, advisory services, information and research functions.
Adjudication / Enforcement
The Employment Appeals Tribunal was dissolved and its functions transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. The first instance functions of the EAT were effectively abolished. A function analogous to the Rights Commissioners’ functions was conferred on WRC adjudication officers. The appellate function of the Employment Appeals Tribunal was transferred to a newly expanded Labour Court.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal continued for a limited period after the establishment of the WRC in order to dispose of all legacy first instance complaints and appeals. This was to maintain the legitimate expectation of the parties who had initiated proceedings that would be heard before a tripartite chairman, employer and employee’s representatives style tribunal rather than the less formal WRC procedure.
The Minister appointed the day for dissolution of the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The functions of the EAT were transferred to the Labour Court. The first instance functions of the EAT under the Unfair Dismissals Act and Minimum Notice Act are transferred to the WRC. Most employment rights matters, such as unfair dismissal claims are now generally heard by a single Adjudication Officer.
Complaints under the Equal Status Act are made to the Director-General of the Work Relations Commissions rather than the Director of the Equality Tribunal. An appeal against the decision of the Adjudication Officer in an equal status case is to the Circuit Court reflecting the pre-existing position.
The WRC took over the inspection and enforcement functions of the Department /National Employment Rights Authority. The powers of prosecution which were vested in the Minister in relation to a range of employment legislation is transferred to the Commission. References in the relevant legislation are to be interpreted as references to the Commission.
Simplification of Access
The Workplace Relations Commission is designed to provide a single point of reference for employment, equality and industrial relations disputes. The Workplace Relations Commission deals with all cases in the first instance. The Labour Court deals with cases on appeal.
A key objective of the legislation was to facilitate the resolution of workplace disputes, quickly and inexpensively. There is an increased emphasis on the early and informal resolution of disputes. The Commission is to provide the means whereby complaints under employment rights legislation can be investigated and resolved by early intervention or adjudication by competent personnel.
The legislation standardises procedures and timeframes across a range of employment rights legislation. The WRC seeks to assist employees with multiple complaints, and employers who might have to take and defend claims in several forums. The WRC is a single “one stop”, body, dealing with employment, equality and industrial relations matters.
All complaints are to be dealt with in a single place and at the same time. There is a common procedure for presentation of complaints and referral of disputes to the Director General of the Commission. There is a standardised time limit of six months which may be extended to 12 months for reasonable cause.
There is a greater use of electronic forms in the filing of complaints. There is a single comprehensive website with comprehensive information on employment. There are a single route and time limit for all appeals. There are more efficient methods of enforcing awards.
There are modernised and enhanced investigatory and compliance mechanisms. Officers are appointed under warrant as Inspectors of the Workplace Relations Commission. They incorporate the NERA Inspectorate. The powers of authorised officers are restated along the usual regulatory power lines, largely in accordance with the pre-existing legislation. It is an offence not to cooperate with an authorised officer.
Statutory compliance notices and fixed charge notices may issue for compliance and enforcement purposes. Where the Commission finds continued noncompliance with legislation on the part of employers or employees, it may prosecute.
A compliance notice may issue when an Inspector forms the view that there has been a contravention of scheduled employment law, which the employer fails or refuses to rectify. The schedule of employment legislation is set out in the Act.
An employer may appeal a compliance notice to the Labour Court. After hearing, the Labour Court may affirm, withdraw or require the employer to whom the notice applies to comply with the directions given. There is provision for appeal of the Labour Court decision on a compliance notice to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court may uphold, vary or withdraw the notice. It may make a legally binding order and require the employer to comply with directions.
Failure to comply with a compliance notice, where there is no appeal, may be the subject of a short form Circuit Court procedure, on foot of which a binding order may issue. Failure to comply with a binding order is an offence which may be prosecuted.
There is a provision in the legislation for fixed payment notices in relation to a range of noncompliance with employment legislation by the employer. The matters to which the notice can be used are specified. Where an Inspector suspects noncompliance in respect of one or more offences, he may serve a fixed payment notice. If the person on whom it is served pays the penalty, the matter will not proceed to court. If he refuses to do so, the matter may be prosecuted.
The written report of an inspector is admissible in proceedings. An adjudicator dealing with a dispute may request a copy of a report or request an inspection to be made. The Labour Court may request the Director-General of the Commission to arrange that an Inspector conducts an investigation into specified employment records of an employer, who is party to proceedings. The report may be considered by the Labour Court.
There is provision for appointment of Case Resolution Officers to the Commission, in order to provide a service to facilitate resolution of disputes at an early stage, without recourse to adjudication. An early resolution service is offered in certain cases with less complex issues. Participation is voluntary. It does not preclude having the matter dealt with by means of inspection or hearing. If early resolution yields a compromise or settlement, the outcome is confidential. If it is not successful, anything disclosed during the process may not be used in the subsequent adjudication and inspection procedures.
There is provision for mediation officers to be appointed to provide mediation services to resolve disputes. This is similar to the mediation service formerly offered by the Equality Tribunal under the equal status legislation. This is appropriate to more complex disputes. Participation is voluntary for both parties. Parties retain the right to proceed to a hearing if the matter is not resolved. The process remains confidential and information disclosed may not be used subsequently in any later process.
There is provision for the appointment of adjudicators to the Commission. They may include experienced industrial relations, HR practitioners, employment lawyers and civil servants with appropriate skills. A panel is to be established in an open and transparent way. The process is administered by the Public Appointments Service.
First instance complaints requiring a hearing are heard by Adjudication Officers. When a matter is referred to a hearing, it is assigned by the Director-General to an Adjudication Officer. The Adjudication Officer is to hold the hearing, giving parties the opportunity to present evidence and challenge each other’s evidence. Parties may represent themselves or retain their own representatives. There is an appeal to the Labour Court. In the case of equal status legislation claims, the appeal is to the Circuit Court.
An Adjudication Officer may dismiss a complaint where he forms the view that it is frivolous or vexatious. This dismissal can be appealed to the Labour Court. Where a complaint has been upheld by an Adjudication Officer and if the decision is not appealed by either party but remains unimplemented after 56 days, the complainant, a trade union or excepted body, acting on their behalf (or the Commission in certain cases) may apply to the District Court for an order directing the employer to carry out the decision in accordance with its terms.
A party to a first instance hearing has a right to appeal the decision of the Adjudication Officer to the Labour Court. The Labour Court is a final court of appeal for all adjudication issues. Either party may bring a further appeal from a determination of the Labour Court to the High Court, on a point of law only.
Appeals to the Labour Court are fresh hearings, held in public. There are exceptions where confidential or sensitive issues arise. Decisions of the Labour Court are published on the WRC website. The Labour Court establishes its own procedures. There is a standardised time limit of 42 days from the date of issue of the first instance decision, in which to appeal.
There is provision for enforcement of the decision of the Labour Court which has been upheld. If the decision is made in favour of the complainant and is not appealed, then after 42 days, the complainant, the trade union, excepted body, or in some cases, the Commission may apply to the District Court for an order directing the employer to carry out the decision.
A party to proceedings under employment rights legislation before the Labour Court may appeal to the High Court on a point of law. The decision of the High Court is final and conclusive. The provision for appeal from the Employment Appeals Tribunal to the Circuit Court is repealed. This does not affect the possibility of an application for judicial review. Most such reviews would be covered by an appeal on a point of law.
The Director General of the WRC and the Labour Court may strike out cases for want of prosecution. This may be done if the Director-General or Labour Court is satisfied, that the complainant has not pursued the complaint within the period of one year preceding it being struck out.
The Minister may make regulations for levying fees and charges on users of the services provided by the Commission and the Labour Court. It is not intended to charge fees in most instance.
A person who forges a document or notice, report to be issued under the Act is guilty of an offence.
Regulations may be made providing for that preliminary applications on procedural matters may be dealt with by the Chairman or the Deputy Chairman, sitting alone.
The Schedule to the Act lists the relevant legislation for the purpose of the legislation. Schedule 4 sets out the list of contraventions of employment legislation for the purpose of compliance notices. Schedule V sets out details of employment Acts in relation to which a person may present a claim or refer the dispute to the Director.
The Commission, its Inspectors and adjudication officers may share employment-related information with other enforcement bodies including the Revenue, the Department of Social Protection, the Labour Court, the Garda Síochána and OCDE. They advise each other on suspected offences which come to their notice.
The WRC may pass on to the public contracting authority, any information which it has as the non-compliance with employment legislation by a contractor who has entered a contract with that authority. The purpose is to enable the authority to take appropriate steps as may be open under the contract.
There is provision for the development of cooperation agreements between the Commission, the Labour Court and other specified bodies, in relation to the exchange of information. There is provision for exchange of information with employment law regulatory and compliance authorities in other states.
References and Sources
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
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
Employment Law Nutshell Donovan, D 2016
Employees: Know Your Rights Eardly 2008
Essentials of Irish Labour Law Faulkner 2013
Workplace Relations Commission http://www.lrc.ie/en/
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission https://www.ihrec.ie/
Health and Safety Authority http://www.hsa.ie/eng/
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