Bruton stands by his dispute reform plans


MINISTER FOR Enterprise and Jobs Richard Bruton has said his plans to reform the country’s dispute resolution systems will not be derailed by people who had been making a living out of existing arrangements.

He said he had looked at the arguments put forward against his proposals but didn’t believe they stood up to scrutiny.

“We have been given a mandate for reform and we can’t bow to vested interests who have done very well out of a system that has not served the public,” Mr Bruton said.

The Minister will today bring a submission to an Oireachtas committee arising from a consultation process into his plans for reforming dispute resolution and employment rights services.

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.

In the consultation process the Minister’s proposals were criticised by, among others, a group of members of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and by members of the Employment Bar Association of Ireland.

The ad hoc committee of the Employment Appeals Tribunal said the tribunal was currently made up of three members “coming from three distinct perspectives, each having specific experience as well as expertise and knowledge”.

It warned that in the proposed new structure the decision-making process was being devolved, for the most part on “lone civil servants with no expertise in industry or law”.

The group argued that it was “wrongly assumed that rudimentary training” would equip them for this function.

Members of the Employment Bar Association said that “despite the fact that individual employment disputes such as unfair dismissal rank among the most serious matters that individuals will ever litigate, the proposal suggests that all of these matters will be determined, at first instance and on appeal, by bodies where the adjudicators will have no requirement whatsoever that they be qualified in law”.

“Complex legal issues will have to be determined involving the interpretation and application of Irish and European law,” it added.

However, the new submission to the Oireachtas committee said the Minister remained of the view that first instance complaints should be determined by a single adjudicator who would be given state-of-the-art training.

“In any reform agenda you will have people who have done very well out of the existing system and they will throw up reasons why you should not change it,” Mr Bruton said yesterday.

He said the dispute resolution and employment rights process up to now was not easily understood, was not promoting compliance and had become extremely legalistic.

He said there were five different bodies and 30 separate complaint forms, and on many occasions “the same basic grievance resulted in an array of separate tracks of complaint that would lead to separate hearings”.