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Law to be changed to allow the WRC to compel witnesses to give evidence in unfair dismissals cases.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty TD has announced her intention to take the opportunity in the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 which she introduced to the Dail on 14th February at Second Stage to introduce an amendment to section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 to allow for stronger enforcement of the legislation by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The Minister stated that “At present, adjudication officers of the WRC do not have powers to compel witnesses to attend a hearing to give evidence in cases taken under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977. The WRC has similar powers of witness compellability under other employment rights legislation and it is my intention to remedy this situation by putting unfair dismissals legislation on the same footing as other employment rights legislation.”

Our concern about this is that the parties will no longer be in control of what witnesses should be in attendance, if any, in support of their case on either side of the argument about whether a dismissal is unfair. Currently, the onus is on the parties to present their case, with or without witnesses as they may decide. This change could seriously prejudice some cases, where as a result of witnesses compelled to attend by the WRC, if new evidence comes to light, it then has to be adjudged as to whether it could reasonably have been available at the time of dismissal. The procedural change, in the case of unfair dismissal cases could potentially alter how the hearing is conducted, the time involved in hearings and will almost certainly encourage greater recourse to legal representation. This can hardly be consistent with the original policy objectives on ‘user friendliness’ on the establishment of the reformed workplace relations bodies.

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