Part 2 of the Act provides for the establishment and functions of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) which essentially takes over the work of several employment bodies. The WRC will have general responsibility for the promotion and improvement of industrial and employment relations, with new powers to impose compliance notices and fixed payment notices to encourage better compliance. Part 2 of the Act also sets out the powers of the Director General of the Commission as well as his/her accountability to committees of the Oireachtas.
The functions of the WRC are set out in Section 11 of the Act:
(a) promote the improvement of workplace relations, and maintenance of good workplace relations,
(b) promote and encourage compliance with relevant enactments,
(c) provide guidance in relation to compliance with codes of practice approved under Section 20 ,
(d) conduct reviews of, and monitor developments as respects, workplace relations,
(e) conduct or commission research into matters pertaining to workplace relations,
(f) provide advice, information and the findings of research conducted by the Commission to joint labour committees and joint industrial councils,
(g) advise and apprise the Minister in relation to the application of, and compliance with, relevant enactments,
(h) provide information to members of the public in relation to employment enactments (other than the Act of 1998), and
(i) attend meetings outside the State relating to employment law matters and industrial and workplace relations upon the request of the Minister.
(2) The Commission may provide such advice as it considers appropriate on any matter relating to workplace relations to—
(a) employers or representative bodies or associations of employers, or
(b) employees, trade unions or excepted bodies,
whether or not it has received a request in that behalf from any such person.
The WRC Advisory and Information Service will provide a specialised information service providing information to employers and employees. This information and advice service will not consider or discuss the merits or otherwise of individual complaints or cases. These functions are an amalgamation of various bodies into one body providing advice and research on employment regulation. It is a one “one-stop shop” approach, incorporating the current functions of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Equality Tribunal and the first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT).
Codes of Practice
The next significant change brought about by Part 2 of the Act is the setting out of Codes of Practice in Section 20:
- (1) a) The Commission may, for the purpose of providing guidance to employers, employees and any other persons to whom this Act applies with respect to compliance with an employment enactment, prepare and submit to the Minister draft codes of practice. b) The Commission may, for the purpose of providing guidance to employers, employees and any other persons to whom this Act applies with respect to compliance with an employment enactment, submit to the Minister a draft code of practice prepared by any person other than the Commission.
(2) The Minister may give a direction to the Commission requiring it to prepare and submit to him or her a code of practice for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1) .
(3) The Commission shall comply with a direction under subsection (2) .
(4) The Commission shall, before submitting a draft code of practice to the Minister under subsection (1), request any person that it considers appropriate, including trade unions and employer representative bodies, to make representations to it in relation to the draft code of practice, and the Commission shall consider any such representations made.
(5) The Minister may give a direction to the Commission to amend a draft code of practice submitted to him or her in accordance with this section in such manner as is specified in the direction, and the Commission shall comply with the direction and resubmit to the Minister the draft code of practice as so amended.
(6) The Minister may, by order, declare a draft code of practice submitted or resubmitted to him or her in accordance with this section to be an approved code of practice for the purposes of this Act, and the text of the approved code of practice shall be set out in the order.
(7) The Commission shall publish an approved code of practice on its internet website.
(8) Every order under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either such House within the next twenty one days on which that House sits after the order has been laid before it, the order shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.
(9) A code of practice standing approved under this section shall be admissible in evidence in proceedings before a court, the Labour Court or an adjudication officer.
(10) In this section “employment enactment” does not include the Act of 1998.
Any code of practice approved under Section 20 is then admissible as evidence before a court, Labour Court or adjudication officer. Up to now Codes of Practice have generally been seen as an indiction of best practice however any codes of practice now drawn up will have a much stronger legislative backing in any dispute.