Solicitors who repeatedly put in vexatious claims to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) may be exposed by changes in industrial relations law to ensure cases are heard in public and that evidence must be given on oath.
Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney welcomed the changes to require evidence to be given under oath and for cases to be heard in public.
She said this might expose employers – “some really big names” – who “should have bunk beds in the corner” because they are before the WRC so often.
Ms Seery Kearney, a solicitor who works in employment law, was speaking during a debate on the Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, introduced after the Supreme Court in April found elements of the 2015 Act establishing the WRC to be unconstitutional.
Introducing the amending legislation Minister of State Damien English said the Supreme Court ruled that "the practice of holding all hearings in private is not an acceptable feature of the administration of justice and not compatible with the Constitution".
It rules that “justice must be done in public and where there are situations where privacy is warranted a blanket approach of hearing matters in private is not an acceptable feature of the administration of justice”.
The court also asserted that “the absence of a statutory provision in the administration of an oath and any possibility of punishment for perjury is inconsistent with the Constitution”.
Ms Seery Kearney said “there are solicitors practising in the country who put in vexatious, spurious claims and . . . an employer can find themselves on the wrong end. In once instance I was briefed for 147 claims, where we could produce the time sheets, we could produce everything” but she said it showed the “vexatious level” of the case the solicitor advanced. And there are repeat offenders amongst legal practitioners who are guilty as well so this may expose them also.”
She said that if someone loses their job and has to go through unfair dismissal “evidence needs to be heard on oath and needs to be in public”.
Speaking of her own experience of working with both employers and employees, she said “the same repeat offenders of employers are in there again and again and again. Some really big names that should just have bunk beds in the corner because they are repeatedly in there. There’s never a day when you go down there that that same name isn’t up on the screen.”
She said that “that pattern and ability to name names will be a very important feature. And I think it was regrettable it wasn’t in from the very beginning when we brought in the WRC in 2015”.
The Terenure-based Senator added that “from an employee’s point of view I can understand the sensitivity and the nervousness as I’ve sat beside people” who are afraid of the process.
“There can be sensitive content on the part of the employee so being able to make a submission to have the matter anonymised, or in private will be very important.”