The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) increased the number of hearings it held last year by 75% to more than 3,300, according to its annual report.
The body said that this enabled it to deal with a backlog that had built up due to COVD-19 restrictions in 2020, and the disruption caused by a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year.
The commission said that the judgment “fundamentally changed” its model of adjudication.
The Supreme Court had found that the WRC was ‘administering justice’, but that this was permissible under article 37 of the Constitution.
This meant, however, that new legislation had to be introduced to ensure that the WRC operated fair procedures in the same way as a court.
The WRC report says that 400 hearings were postponed in the period between the Supreme Court ruling and the enactment of the Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 on 29 July.
As a result, it scheduled between 100 and 140 hearings a week in 2021 – higher than pre-COVID numbers. The annual report says that almost all cases that were received before the pandemic have either been disposed of, heard, or scheduled.
“Current cases should anticipate a median time of ten months from submission of complaint to issuing of decision,” the WRC report says.
Multiple complaints against same employer
Writing in the report, director general Liam Kelly (pictured) says that the body has witnessed some instances where multiple identical complaints were submitted against the same employer.
Pointing out that that this takes up resources that could be used for other complaints, Kelly says that, in these cases, the WRC has worked with complainant representatives and respondents to engage in collective mediation processes “with a view to resolving the complaints in an effective and efficient manner”.
The report says that the WRC intends to carry out most of its conciliation and mediation activity in-person as the pandemic recedes, and will look to generally increase the number of physical hearings.
The WRC recorded a 6% increase in calls to its information line, while it held 1,700 meetings aimed at resolving disputes – an increase of 8% from 2020.
Its inspectors carried out 4,500 workplace inspections – 3,400 of which were aimed at ensuring compliance with COVID protocols.
The report shows that the commission recovered almost €1 million in unpaid wages for workers last year.
The commission also opened a new office in Cork during the year.