With a history of up to eight months for employers to be notified that a claim has been lodged against them, an average of 142 days for a Rights Commissioner hearing to be scheduled, a two year wait for an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing – the list goes on – Minister Burton is determined to reform the State’s statutory workplace relations structures and processes.
The first phase of his reforms was the introduction earlier this year of a single ‘workplace relations’ website and a single online ‘Workplace Relations Complaint Form’ to replace 30 of the existing complaint forms (see the March 2012 Newsletter).
Considerable progress has been made since then with, for example, employers normally being notified within five days that a complaint has been made against them and Rights Commissioner hearings now being scheduled within a matter of weeks.
The next major step for Minister Burton will be to establish a two-tier workplace relations structure, so that from the end of this year two bodies will replace the current five. There will be a new ‘single body of first instance’ to be called the Workplace Relations Commission (the equivalent of the UK’s Employment Tribunal) and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court.
Work has already commenced on the drafting of a Workplace Relations Bill to give effect to this new structure and it is intended that this legislation will be enacted by autumn this year. The legislation will provide for the orderly wind-down of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) and the Equality Tribunal.
The LRC, NERA and Equality Tribunal services, together with the first instance functions of the EAT and the Labour Court, will be transferred to the Workplace Relations Commission. The current appeal functions of the EAT will be amalgamated into a reconfigured Labour Court.
When this transition has been completed, all complaints will go initially to the Workplace Relations Commission for ‘adjudication’. All appeals will be to the Labour Court, the equivalent of the UK’s Employment Appeal Tribunal, with the only further appeal being to the High Court on a point of law.
In addition to establishing the Workplace Relations Commission to decide on all complaints and a single appellate body, the Workplace Relations Bill will introduce:
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