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196% rise in consultations by workers worried about their jobs
Rose Wall of CLM

02 Jun 2020 / justice Print

196% rise in consultations by worried workers

Dublin’s Community Law and Mediation centre (CLM) has seen a 196% rise in employment rights consultations since the COVID-19 restrictions began.

It says that urgent action is required by any incoming Government to ensure employees` rights are protected.

The law centre’s recent employment-rights consultations have dealt with breaches of contract, unequal treatment, and difficulty accessing payments.

Mistreatment

CLM says people affected by employment-related issues should be allowed to access free legal aid to challenge unfairness, discrimination or mistreatment at work.

CLM says that employment equality law can be complex and technical, and its clients are often working in low-paid, precarious jobs and cannot afford the services of a lawyer.

Chief executive Rose Wall said: "We understand that the impact of COVID-19 on businesses has been unprecedented. However, now more than ever, employers must respect the rights of their employees and the legislation that upholds those rights.”

Fears

Wall said that fears over employment rights currently predominate at the CLM.

“Since the end of March, we have provided consultations on almost 100 employment cases – a 196% increase on the same period last year. This has placed our services at capacity, but the demand in the wider community is clearly significantly higher.

“People are feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable to the added complexities that COVID-19 now brings to the workforce.

“With the number of people unemployed now at 1.1 million, and set to rise in coming months, it will become increasingly difficult to challenge discrimination or mistreatment in the workplace.

“We must protect our workers and ensure that legal aid is accessible to all – this is why we are calling for urgent reform and expansion of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in the next Programme for Government.”

Reform

CLM has written to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party asking them to prioritise reform of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in the next Programme for Government.

It says that people need access to legal aid in all areas of law, including for cases involving the Workplace Relations Commission and the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

The CLM also says the existing means test is overly strict and out of touch with the reality of the cost of living, with the result that people on low incomes, who cannot afford a solicitor, are denied legal aid.

Legal remedies

Legal Aid Board waiting can average 38 weeks in some parts of the country, which can cause issues for those seeking legal remedies with strict time limits, such as judicial review, which has an effective time limit of three months.

The CLM also wants stronger links with disadvantaged communities through education in relation to legal rights.

It also urges the speedy resumption of the access to justice review, which was started by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality last December.

Represented

CLM wants all employees to have access to legal aid and be fairly represented in the Workplace Relations Commission.

CLM says that while the WRC was created to remove the need for lawyers from the workplace disputes process, in practice, employers tend to engage legal representation, which is concerning from the point of view of equality of arms and natural justice.

The WRC has also moved to an increasingly online process, and the documentation requirements can prove difficult for claimants if they present as unrepresented lay litigants.

Claims

CRM also points out that WRC claims must be submitted within a tight six-month deadline, which can be difficult for an individual emerging from a difficult experience.

During COVID-19 restrictions, Community Law & Mediation is running free legal advice clinics by phone to anywhere in the country, in place of its usual face-to-face services.

Appointments for phone consultations can be booked on 01 847 7804.  

Legal advice

CLM supports more than 3,000 people annually with free legal advice and representation, information and education, and mediation and conflict coaching.

It operates two community law centres, CLM Northside (Dublin) and CLM Limerick, and it partners with other organisations to provide outreach advice clinics around Ireland.

CLM was established in Coolock in 1975 as the first independent, community-based law centre in Ireland.

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