However, a substantial number of practitioners took issue with aspects of the WRC’s adjudication service, pointing to difficulties and inconsistencies with the adjudication process, and problems with scheduling hearings.
The findings are published four years on from the introduction of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, which replaced a complex array of legal entities with a streamlined system, including the WRC and Labour Court.
The survey is the third in a series of studies published by Dr Brian Barry, tracing practitioners’ feedback on how workplace-disputes services operate in Ireland – both before and after the fundamental reforms in 2015.
Some of the key findings include:
- Five in ten practitioners were satisfied with the new two-tier system, compared with three in ten who were dissatisfied – an improvement on results from earlier surveys,
- Seven in ten practitioners believe the format of the WRC’s adjudication hearings is inconsistent, making it difficult to advise clients on issues relating to the format of a hearing,
- Five in ten practitioners were satisfied with the competence of WRC adjudication officers, compared with three in ten who were dissatisfied,
- Marginally more practitioners were dissatisfied than satisfied with the effectiveness of the WRC mediation service.
The Labour Court, which commenced operations in 1947, and since 2015 acts as a full appellate court for employment rights and industrial relations disputes, attracted a relatively high level of satisfaction among practitioners:
- Seven in ten practitioners were satisfied with its competence,
- Seven in ten practitioners agreed that the Labour Court had adapted well to its new increased role as a full appellate court for employment rights’ issues.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Barry said: “This survey indicates improvement in the operation of important workplace dispute-resolution services in Ireland.
“Importantly, the survey identifies areas in need of improvement, and challenges that persist, particularly with improving consistency and certainty in how adjudication hearings operate.
"Ongoing improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of these services are crucial for workers and employers in dispute over important employment rights issues, such as unfair dismissal claims, workplace discrimination and maternity-leave entitlements.”
The survey canvassed the opinion of 29 solicitors, two solicitors working in-house, 30 barristers, 33 trade union representatives, seven employer organisation representatives, and three 'others' (mainly non-legally qualified HR consultants).
As such, the cohort is a very broad and representative sample of Irish employment law and industrial relations practitioners.
Large organisations in the workplace-relations sphere were also surveyed, such as the Employment Law Association of Ireland, trade unions, IBEC, and members of the Employment Bar Association.
Some of these memberships overlap.
Overview of new system
In all, 48% of practitioners said that they were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the new two-tier system, while 34% said that they were either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’.
A total of 18% of practitioners said that they were ‘neutral’ in this regard.
This was a sizeable improvement on levels of satisfaction from an earlier survey in 2016, one year after the introduction of the new system.
The Workplace Relations Act 2015 introduced the Workplace Relations Commission, which provides an adjudication service to adjudicate on workplace disputes in the first instance.
Practitioners were asked for their views on this service:
- 47% of practitioners expressed satisfaction with the competence of adjudication officers at the WRC, 31% were dissatisfied, and 22% were neutral,
- 68% of practitioners said that the format of hearings hosted by adjudication officers at the WRC was not consistent from hearing to hearing. Many practitioners commented that it was difficult to advise their clients on how adjudication officers would conduct hearings,
- 54% of practitioners were dissatisfied with the consistency of adjudication officers’ rulings. 26% said they were satisfied, and 20% said they were neutral in this regard.
- 38% of practitioners were dissatisfied with the quality of adjudication officers’ rulings. 38% said they were satisfied, and 24% said they were neutral,
- 49% of practitioners were dissatisfied with the administration, processing and scheduling of complaints by the WRC, while 31% said they were satisfied, with 20% being neutral. Many practitioners commented on inconsistencies and inflexibility in the process for granting adjournments and postponements of hearings.
Practitioners were asked for their views on the revised Labour Court that now also hears appeals from decisions of adjudication officers at the WRC:
- 71% of practitioners expressed satisfaction with the competence of the Labour Court,
- 21% expressed dissatisfaction,
- 8% were neutral.
A total of 62% of practitioners expressed satisfaction with the quality of rulings of the Labour Court, 22% expressed dissatisfaction, and 16% were neutral.
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