As the Deputy may be aware I have engaged in extensive public consultation in framing my proposals for a radical reform of the State’s Workplace Relations Services. While there are excellent and committed people working in the five existing Workplace Relations Bodies, often with challenging workloads, clearly the system itself has not performed and needs to be changed. Indeed, there is universal acceptance of the need for root-and-branch reform of the existing structures and processes which have evolved in an ad hoc fashion over the last eighty years. These deficiencies have given rise to, among other matters, complexities for practitioners and users of the service, multiple points of entry to the system, forum shopping, long delays in scheduling hearings and issuing decisions.
My objective is to deliver a world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial, cost effective and provides for workable means of redress and enforcement, within a reasonable period of time. A new two-tier Workplace Relations structure will be established comprising two statutorily independent bodies replacing the current five. We will have a new single body of first instance to be called the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court.
A significant amount of work has been completed on the preparation of the legislation which will give statutory effect to the new structures and associated processes. The Draft Scheme of the Workplace Relations Bill has been approved by Government for priority drafting. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has assigned resources to ensure the earliest possible publication of the Bill and drafting of the Bill is at an advanced stage. My intention is to publish the Bill during the Spring/Summer Dáil session 2014 with a view to having the new structures in place during 2014.
The Workplace Relations Bill will provide for the following measures:
- The services of the Equality Tribunal, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and the first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) to come together under the remit of the WRC. The appellate functions of the EAT will be amalgamated into a reconfigured Labour Court.
- The establishment of the Office of Director General of the WRC; appointment of the Director General by the Minister on specified terms of appointment; the statutory powers and functions of the Director General.
- The staffing of the WRC by officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
- A statutory basis for the use of innovative measures such as Compliance Notices and Fixed Charge Notices to enhance the compliance functions of the WRC.
- The sharing of employment related and other specified information between the WRC, the Labour Court and other official agencies in the context of promoting compliance with employment legislation.
- The appointment of additional members to the Labour Court to facilitate the increased workload of the Court in the new system.
- A new more transparent system of appointment of adjudicators of the WRC and Chairs, Vice-Chairs and ordinary members to the Labour Court.
- A new streamlined system for the enforcement of awards under employment legislation.
- Necessary and consequential amendments to existing employment, industrial relations, equality and other legislation.
- Better enforcement of employment rights awards and better compliance and enforcement measures for employment rights.
Significant progress has also been achieved to date, in advance of the enabling legislation, insofar as the technological, structural, administrative and staffing changes required to underpin the Workplace Relations Reform Programme are concerned. A Single Contact Portal, e-complaint facility, Staffing and Structures Plan, Workplace Relations website, early resolution service and enhanced technologies and processes have already been put in place. Tenders for the supply and commissioning of a customer relationship management solution are currently being evaluated. This solution will underpin and support effective and efficient service delivery. Arrangements for the recruitment, selection and training of adjudicators and the rationalisation of accommodation and hearings venues are at an advanced stage.