WRC Work Programme 2020 Raises Some Opportunities for Change
The Board of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is required to review the performance of the Commission over the previous year against its Key Performance Indicators and produce a programme of activities for the following year. Stratis has reviewed key aspects of the WRC Work Programme for 2020 on which we have some observations.
We should recall that the primary purpose of the WRC is to provide services to “help to maintain industrial relations stability, mediate and adjudicate in individual disputes, raise awareness of and improve industrial and employment relations generally, promote, monitor and enforce compliance with employment standards and provides recourse for people who feel they have been discriminated against in the delivery of services.”
Conciliation, Advisory and Mediation (CAM).
This service achieved an 85% successful resolution of all disputes in 2019 and the intention for 2020 is to maintain this success rate even considering an expected increase in demand. This speaks highly of the reputation and competence of the service and of the professionalism of the team delivering this valued service. The goal of successful resolution of disputes is stated in terms of the outcome or level of success achieved. Agreed settlements through negotiation and conciliation are always to be preferred over imposed decisions.
Pre-adjudication face to face mediation was carried out in 120 cases in 2019 and the target for 2020 is set at the same level. The phone mediation service target for 2020 is 10% above the (unspecified) 2019 level. Our feedback from clients of the phone mediation service (pre-adjudication) remains poor. As with the conciliation service, targets should be set against achieving resolution. We believe, greater effort should be given through mediation to encouraging the parties to reach agreement. We believe the mentality and skills of the conciliation service is a strong template for this approach. We note that the WRC state that it has met its target for pre-adjudication mediation but there is no commentary about the quality and the results of mediation.
There is an absence of details about the activities of the Adjudication service, other than the period taken to complete a case and issue a decision. The median currently stands at 8 months with a target to reduce this by 2 weeks in 2020 with a target to reduce this to below 6 months by 2022.
At Stratis, we believe the Adjudication service needs a fundamental review. It currently employs over 50 part time adjudicators and there is a lack of consistency of procedure when dealing with cases. The issue of consistency needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and is most noticeable in Unfair Dismissals cases.
New Adjudicators come from many backgrounds, including Trade Unions, Employers and the Legal profession. However, several Adjudicators maintain private practices and are only available when their private work allows. This raises questions about the potential for conflicts of interest in the exercise of their role as an Adjudicator. Adjudicators should be appointed on a full time or exclusive basis only and not be permitted to engage in other work, in parallel, including acting as advisors or representatives for employers or employees.
We believe that as part of the key performance indicators for Adjudicators, these should include the time from hearing to issuing a decision, the number of cases appealed and the percentage upheld or overturned on appeal.
We note that a WRC target is to utilise an internal quality control review group to review decisions to identify learning points, to ensure consistency of decisions in common areas and to improve the service provided to customers of the Adjudication Service. This needs to be acted on and to include the consistency of approach as a priority issue.
Inspections and Enforcement
The inspection and enforcement service conducted 5,000 site visits in 2019 which remains the target for 2020 but with more visits targeted to “at risk” groups. Multilingual questionnaires are also to be introduced.
At Stratis we believe the priority of the Inspection service should be to ensure compliance.
The WRC must carefully balance its role of encouraging compliance and seeking enforcement. Building a culture of compliance benefits all parties, however where employers are not responding within a reasonable timescale or engaging in a meaningful way with the WRC, employers should fully understand that other options, including enforcement by the WRC, may be necessary.
Sector level campaigns should initially be at the sector level with extensive engagement with industry representative bodies with follow up at the organisational level. Where this is done within an overall framework of building awareness it will help to support a culture of compliance.
Where new or revised legislation is adopted, Inspectors should also engage with sectoral groups to explore interpretations of compliance and build a common understanding as to what amounts to compliance, before individual employers are targeted.