Workplace Relations Commission to be subject to emergency legislation
Future hearings to be held generally in public following Supreme Court ruling
The Workplace Relations Commission has been found to be administering justice and two aspects of legislation introduced in 2015 were incompatible with the Constitution.
The Government is to introduce emergency legislation to change key elements of the operation of the Workplace Relations Commission including that hearings will be held in public.
The new legislation will also allow for evidence to be provided on oath during proceedings at the Workplace Relations Commission in future.
Minister for Business, Employment and Retail Damien English said on Thursday that the new legislation would be introduced as a matter of urgency in the coming weeks.
It follows a significant Supreme Court ruling earlier this month which found that the Workplace Relations Commission was in fact administering justice and that two aspects of legislation introduced in 2015 were incompatible with the Constitution.
The Minister said the Supreme Court ruling “may impact some cases currently before the Workplace Relations Commission”.
It is understood a number of cases due to be held in the Workplace Relations Commission over the coming weeks may need to be adjourned in advance of the enactment of the planned emergency legislation
The Supreme Court held that section 41(13) of the 2015 Workplace Relations Act, which required all hearings before an adjudication officer to be held otherwise than in public, as well as the absence of the provision for the administration of an oath, or any possibility of punishment for giving false evidence were inconsistent with the Constitution.
However, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, which had been enacted to streamline dispute resolution procedures.
The core issue before the Supreme Court was whether the commission process amounted to the administration of justice – required under article 34 of the Constitution to be administered by judges – and whether the statutory framework adequately vindicated a claimant’s rights.
The majority held the process involved the exercise of limited powers of administration of justice within the meaning of article 37 and was thus not unconstitutional.
Mr English said he had on Thursday received the orders of the Supreme Court in the case which had been brought against the Workplace Relations Commission by Tomasz Zalewski.
Administration of justice
The court said on Thursday it expected its observations about the need for “enhanced independence” by adjudication officers of the Workplace Relations Commission “will be taken on board” in light of findings the commission was exercising limited powers of administration of justice.
It also formally declared the lack of provision in the relevant law for public hearings before adjudication officers in certain cases, or for the administration of an oath/affirmation, is unconstitutional.
The finding in favour of Mr Zalewski in the case to the effect the administration of justice was involved was “of real significance”, the court said.
The public interest nature of the proceedings, and the significant success Mr Zalewski had achieved in the Supreme Court appeal, entitled him to his full costs in the High and Supreme Courts, it ruled.
Mr Zalewski of North Strand Road, Dublin 3, represented by Peter Ward SC and Cian Ferriter SC, took the case against a Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer, the Workplace Relations Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General arising from his alleged unfair dismissal from his employment with Buywise Discount Store Ltd.
The adjudication officer dismissed his case based on preliminary written submissions without a full hearing including cross-examination of witnesses. The commission subsequently admitted this was an error and the Supreme Court described the handling of his complaint as “calamitous”.
Last night, Sinn Féin published its own proposed legislation regarding the Workplace Relations Commission in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.