Concern over worker rights plan


Concern over the unforeseen consequences of delegalising the employment relations process was expressed by a member of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) today.

Chairman of the EAT ad-hoc committee Noel Dowling was part of a delegation speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise about proposed reforms by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton for merging five employment relations bodies.

He was concerned about one of the motivations behind the reforms to “lighten the regulatory burden on employers”. Some people would read that as making it easier for employers to dismiss people, he said.

There was a “danger” in delegalising the process, he said comparing the changes to “unforeseen consequences” to the past deregulation of financial and building industries.

Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary said that nobody wanted to see the delegalising of employment law. However the burden and amount of regulation was not just affecting those in employment but those out of employment as people, particularly small employers, were “scared of hiring”, Mr Calleary said.

Mr Dowling also raised fears that the proposed single adjudicator system, as opposed to the current three member system, could be outside the European Convention on Human Rights.

Depending on the case one person could get lucky and have a legal person with experience and someone else could get unlucky and get someone with eight weeks training, he said. It was not clear how this person would be chosen for each case from the wide panel of adjudicators.

The existing tripartite Employment Appeals Tribunal system could be integrate into the new system and savings could instead be made on the administrative side, he argued.

He said that the current tribunal members were more cost effective than the new system which proposed using permanent staff. Tribunal members currently convened on the basis of need and were not entitled to annual leave, sick leave, holidays or pensions, he said.

There appeared to be an attempt in advance of the Oireachtras debate on he issue to “change the facts on the ground” Mr Dowling said. Historically 60 per cent of cases had gone to the EAT and 40 per cent  to the Rights Commissioner but this had been reversed since Christmas, he said.

Mr Bruton’s plans would see the establishment of a new workplace relations commission which would incorporate the functions of the Labour Relations Commission (including the rights commissioner service), the Equality Tribunal, the first instance jurisdiction of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the National Employment Rights Authority.

An expanded Labour Court would hear all appeals from the workplace relations commission and would also acquire the current appellate jurisdiction of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

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