What is the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)?
Read Time: 6 mins
Written by Michelle McDonagh
What Will I Learn from This Article about the WRC?
- What is the Workplace Relations Act and what is its purpose?
- Functions of the Workplace Relations Commission
- Advisory and Conciliation Services Offered by the WRC
- What happens when there is an Appeal from a WRC Adjudicator Decision?
- How Employers Need to Be WRC Audit-Ready at All Times
Purpose of the Workplace Relations Act
The Workplace Relations Act was introduced into Irish law in 2015 with the objective to reform Ireland’s workplace relations bodies, delivering a “world-class workplace relations service providing an integrated industrial relations, adjudication and enforcement service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial, cost-effective and provides for workable means of redress and enforcement, within a reasonable period”. (Minister of State for Businesses and Employment, Gerald Nash TD, 4 February 2015).
It is designed to make it less complicated for employees to bring claims and for employers to respond to them, to provide swifter access to justice and quicker resolution of disputes for everyone. Now all employment disputes – from unfair dismissals and discrimination claims to work time issues, pay claims and any industrial relations issues – are referred to the newly established Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in the first instance. Regardless of the nature of the claim, one single Adjudication Officer hears the claim in private. The Labour Court deals with all appeals from the WRC, with those appeals being heard afresh and in public. Labour Court decisions can be appealed to the High Court, but only on a point of law.
Functions of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)
The WRC has a board consisting of a chairperson and eight other members. Representatives of employers and employees have two members each; one member is from a body which seeks to promote equality in the workplace and three members are people who have experience and expertise in relation to workplace relations, resolution of disputes in the workplace, employment law or equality law.
The main functions of the WRC are to:
- Promote the improvement of workplace relations, and maintenance of good workplace relations
- Promote and encourage compliance with the relevant laws
- Provide guidance in relation to compliance with codes of practice
- Conduct reviews of, and monitor developments as respects, workplace relations
- Conduct or commission relevant research and provide advice, information and the findings of research to Joint Labour Committees and Joint Industrial Councils
- Advise the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in relation to the application of, and compliance with, relevant laws
- Provide information to the public in relation to employment laws other than the Employment Equality Act
The WRC may also provide advice on any matter relating to workplace relations to employers, their representative bodies and to employees, trade unions or other representative bodies of employees. The WRC has specific functions in relation to the resolution of industrial disputes and the implementation of employment laws. It is the body to which all industrial relations disputes and all disputes and complaints about employment laws are presented. The WRC employs mediation and adjudication officers to deal with industrial disputes and complaints about non-compliance with employment laws.
Advisory and Conciliation Services Offered by the WRC
The WRC operates an advisory service on industrial relations in the workplace to employers, employees and their representatives. They have also published codes of practice including Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures and Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace. They also have a conciliation service to help employers and their employees to resolve disputes when they have failed to reach an agreement during their own previous negotiations. An Industrial Relations Officer of the Commission acts as chairperson during meetings to negotiate an agreement. The majority of the cases referred to conciliation are settled. If no agreement is reached then, if the parties wish, the dispute may be referred to the Labour Court.
Early Resolution of Workplace Disputes
- The WRC encourages mediation and the early resolution of disputes as close to the workplace as possible and without the need for parties to have to resort to formal adjudication where possible.
- When a complaint arrives at the WRC it may be referred to a mediation officer if it is deemed suitable for early resolution. If so, and if both parties agree to it, then a mediation conference (potentially held over the phone) will be convened. Any resolution arising from this will be binding on the parties and enforceable in the Courts.
- Should the early resolution and mediation process prove unsuccessful, both parties will be prohibited from using any information disclosed as part of the process in any subsequent proceedings, including in the adjudication or inspection processes.
Adjudication of Workplace Disputes
- If early resolution is not deemed appropriate, is refused by the parties, or if an attempted mediation is unsuccessful, a dispute will be referred to a single adjudicator at the WRC.
- This process is envisaged as being more inquisitorial than adversarial – the hearing will be held in private and evidence will not be on oath. Representation (legal or otherwise) will be allowed, but there are no references in the Act to the examination or cross-examination of witnesses.
- All decisions of adjudicators will be published on the internet on an anonymised basis.
- Limitation periods for the referral of a dispute under any employment or equality legislation are standardised to six months. This can be extended to twelve months where “reasonable cause” can be shown.
- An adjudication officer can require the attendance of a witness and/or the production of documents relevant to the proceedings.
What happens to Appeals from a WRC Adjudicator Decision?
- Any appeal from a decision of an Adjudicator will simply go to the Labour Court in all instances. The Labour Court hearings will be public and decisions will be published in full unless special circumstances arise.
- Decisions of the Labour Court can then be appealed to the High Court on a point of law only (rather than rehearing the entire case).
- The Act also allows for the determination of disputes (at adjudication and/or appeal stage) based on written submissions alone, rather than by way of a full oral hearing. However, either side can object to this.
- Awards of an Adjudication Officer or the Labour Court can be enforced through the District Court.
The WRC also conduct workplace inspections, both announced and unannounced where they have the authority to issue on the spot fines or instigate legal proceedings against an employer. Please refer to our article on WRC workplace inspections for further information.
Employers Need to Be WRC Audit-Ready at All Times
The Workplace Relations Act 2015 has brought much-needed reform to an outdated system for resolving workplace disputes in Ireland. On a practical level, employers should focus on ensuring they are WRC audit-ready at all times by maintaining accurate and signed contracts of employment for all staff, applying provisions such as annual leave, public holiday payments correctly for part-time and full-time staff and recording working hours to ensure the maximum working week of 48 hours is not breached. These are the common pitfalls alongside ensuring policies are in place for managing disciplinary, grievance, bullying & harassment complaints.
If you would like to arrange Aspire HR to conduct a proactive HR health check in your business giving you peace of mind, please email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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