To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the discussions he has had with his European counterparts in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 17th December, 2014.
Ref No: 47999/14
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Mr Bruton)
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was discussed at the last EU Council of Trade Ministers on 21 November which I attended. The Council was briefed by Commissioner Malmström and took stock of the current state of play. The Council adopted a set of policy conclusions that give clear, unambiguous and reasoned political support for the TTIP negotiations. The conclusions which were agreed at Council highlight sustainable growth and jobs as a key priority for the EU, the importance of an ambitious Agreement in that context, and the importance of better communicating the scope and the benefits of the Agreement to all our stakeholders.
I recalled the importance of these negotiations for jobs and economic growth, and that we needed to vigorously pursue this. I also pointed to the importance of transparency, the provision of information and communication. In this regard, I welcomed the Commissioner’s plans to improve transparency and openness in these negotiations.
To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the way he plans to deal with the anticipated substantial extra workload on Labour Court/LRC staff arising from the Workplace Relations Bill and his plans to increase staff numbers to ensure an efficient, accessible and timely service is delivered.
For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 17th December, 2014.
Ref No: 47998/14
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Mr Bruton TD)
The Workplace Relations Bill provides for the establishment of a statutory Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) with a full range of functions formerly carried out by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), including Rights Commissioner Service, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA). The Bill will also provide for the Labour Court to be the appellate body to determine, among other matters, appeals against decisions of WRC Adjudication Officers.
A Staffing and Structures Plan for the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court has been drawn up. Compliance, inspection, enforcement, conciliation, advisory and other services currently provided by NERA, the LRC and the Equality Tribunal will be incorporated into the WRC. Certain elements of this Plan, including the establishment of shared services units to deal with the receipt, validation, registration and scheduling of complaints, have already been put in place. These and other synergies and efficiencies, underpinned by significant investment in new technology and enhanced business processes, will reduce the cost of service delivery.
Within this context, however, I remain committed to the delivery of a world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial, cost effective, provides for workable means of redress and enforcement within a reasonable period and reduces costs for businesses and employees. In this regard I am anxious to ensure that the Labour Court and the WRC have the resources necessary to meet this objective.
Six additional staff were assigned in order to facilitate the establishment under the Reform Programme of the Pilot Early Resolution Service currently operated within the Labour Relations Commission. This Service will be amalgamated with the Equality Mediation Service currently provided by the Equality Tribunal to form a dedicated Mediation Service to be operated by the WRC. The objective of this Service will be to resolve first instance complaints and disputes as early as possible and without recourse to adjudication, thus reducing pressures on the WRC’s Adjudication Services.
All first instance complaints will be heard by WRC Adjudication Officers. On the establishment of the WRC the current cohort of Equality Officers together with the Labour Relations Commission’s Rights Commissioners will be appointed as WRC adjudicators. They will be supplemented by a panel of external adjudicators appointed by me. The Public Appointments Service (PAS) is currently undertaking the selection process for this panel which will comprise industrial relations and HR practitioners and employment lawyers with appropriate skills and experience.
It is estimated that the caseload of the Labour Court will increase significantly arising from the Court’s assumption of responsibility for dealing with appeals which had previously been referred to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The current strength of the Labour Court is nine comprising the Chairman, two Deputy Chairs and six members. Additional resources will be required for the Court to deal with an increase of this magnitude and arrangements to appoint an additional Division of the Court and two additional Deputy Chairs are currently being put in train.
Separately, it is intended that provision will be made to allow the Chairman and Deputy Chairs of the Court to sit alone in matters such as case management conferences, adjournment applications, examining the merits of certain appeals or other routine matters, thus allowing the Divisions to focus on contested cases. The provision of an additional Deputy Chair for the Court will allow Divisions to continue to sit if a Chairman or Deputy Chair has to attend to drafting and related work.
I am confident that these changes will further enhance the efficiency and productivity of the Court and will allow it to cope with an increased caseload without a corresponding increase in its strength.