The Workplace Relations Bill 2014

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Ireland is currently undergoing ‘a challenging social and economic climate for families, the employed and the unemployed’.[1] The rate of unemployment is still, unfortunately, very high, despite dropping to 11.7% from a peak of 15.1% in 2012.[2] This uneasy atmosphere leads to an increase in litigation, with more and more employees pursuing claims against their employers. Unfortunately, due to the structure of Irish employment law, litigation in this area can often be a costly, lengthy, and inefficient process, for all parties involved. In fact, a survey undertaken by Dr Barry in 2011 shows that 96 out of 103 practitioners believe that the current system is in need of a complete overhaul.[3] The Workplace Relations Bill, 2014 proposes to significantly change the structure of Irish employment law.

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Based on the “Blueprint to Deliver a World-Class Workplace Relations Service” (published in April 2012 by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation), this Bill, if enacted, will alter the way disputes are resolved between employers and employees in this jurisdiction. The overarching themes of this Bill seem to be about giving priority to speed and simplicity – this reform is very much welcome, especially considering how convoluted Irish employment law has become. While there are an overwhelming amount of positive changes and tweaks in this Bill that will change the resolution of disputes for the better, certain aspects of the Bill could potentially have a negative impact on the system, mostly due to a lack of detail. In order to assess the potential significance of the Bill, it is necessary to first examine its aims. Overall, according Mr Richard Burton, TD, the goal of the Bill is to create a ‘world-class workplace relations service’.[4] The Explanatory Memorandum states that that the Bill will ‘provide significant benefits for its users and society as a whole. The focus will be on resolving the workplace disputes as quickly and inexpensively as possible’.[5] Merging of Existing Bodies According to Cox, Corbett and Ryan, ‘a key distinguishing feature of Irish employment litigation is the multiplicity of different for a in which claims may be brought’.[6] This is huge problem in the current system, one that is unique to Ireland, for numerous reasons that will be examined below. Currently, there are several bodies that deal with workplace relations. These include the Rights Commissioner Service (LRC), the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Equality Tribunal, and the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT). The old system is potentially unfair due to the large number of these bodies, some with similar functions, making it easy for employees to become daunted, as it is unclear which of the bodies suit their particular claim. This leads to ‘forum shopping’, which requires legal advice – yet another cost on top of the litigation. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that if the claims are directed to the wrong forum,

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