Former Senior advisor to the Executive Director of the World Bank Brendan Ryan, acting as Chairman, welcomed a full house last Wednesday 6 May at the Westin. PAI’s conference, “Innovations in Dispute Resolutions” drew delegates from all sectors, and included many HR professionals and trained mediators. Mr Ryan noted that this conference was “particularly timely”. In the wake of the big movements in Industrial Relations of late, as well as the shift towards a “two-tiered system”, 2015 will be a “time of great change”.
The speakers (L-R): Chairman Brendan Ryan, the Labour Court’s Caroline Jenkinson, Prof Bill Roche (UCD), the Workplace Relations Commission’s Kieran Mulvey, Dr John O’Dowd, Tom O’Driscoll of the Worker’s Rights Centre (SIPTU), Treasa Kenny of Burtenshaw Kenny Associates, and PAI’s Don Bergin
First to the podium was Kieran Mulvey, Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Commission, and CEO of the Workplace Relations Commission on its establishment. Mr Mulvey’s presentation aimed to enlighten the crowd on “what’s happening in the context of the Workplace Relations Commission”. First and foremost, with the dissolution of the Employment Rights Tribunal, the Equality Tribunal, the Labour Relations Commission, and NERA, and the establishment of the Workplace Relations Commission, they are attempting to “put some order to this maze”. This is especially important as
“between 2008 and 2014, in particular, the amount of claims were escalating in the context of the recession”, and are “still on the up”.
He stated that the Labour Relations commission has a particular track-record of “seminal research around alternative dispute resolutions” and he would like for the Workplace Relations Commission to retain such a “research agenda”. He agreed that certain changes may take some time, but that they are “changing the culture” and they are “moving very quickly to integrate the services” so as to provide a speedy and efficient service.
Continuing in the vein of filling the crowd in on how the systems in place work, Deputy Chairman of the Labour Court, Caroline Jenkinson, took the podium to speak about the Labour Court. She admitted that things in the labour court had been done in a “haphazard and ad hoc way” previously, and that all of the changes to the body were to ensure results were returned “timely, quickly and efficiently”. Under the new two-tiered system, there would be a “single first-instance body to deal with all employment and equality disputes”, and a “single appellate body … All appeals will now come to the Labour Court”. She also noted that all appeals would now be “de novo cases”.1 Attention was paid to the effect the new legislation would have on s.23(a) of the Industrial Relations Act; under the definition of “worker”, for the purpose of the Act, civil servants were not included. A provision for this is forthcoming. Ms Jenkinson announced that there would be a 56% increase in the workload of the Labour Court. Finally, she said
“We have to retain the primary function of the Labour Court as the court of last resort in Industrial Relations Disputes … However, we will act in an efficient and expeditious way in dealing with employment rights’ disputes”.
Deputy Chairman of the Labour Court, Caroline Jenkinson, outlines the changes to the body.
Professor of Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the School of Business (UCD) Bill Roche next gave a presentation on “preventative dispute resolution”, specifically facilitated bargaining and facilitated group bargaining. This was a type of alternative strategy reached through studies in dispute resolution, which was supported by the LRC. Much as Mr Mulvey did, Prof Roche commended the Labour Relations Commission on the fact that they are “champions of research-based policymaking”, a legacy he hopes to see brought forward. He spoke of the positives regarding third-party involvement in workplace disputes, typically used “after an impasse has been reached” by parties. The choice whether to use a private service or the LRC, he says,
“rests at the discretion of the employer or union involved” but people usually seek private facilitation in order to “receive a very concrete and very specific set of objectives”.
Prof Roche was followed to the podium by Dr John O’Dowd, a specialist in organisational change and conflict resolution. His presentation marked the beginning of what could be seen as a practical and anecdotal afternoon session; he began by calling what would follow “a practitioner’s reflection”. His presentation was concerned mainly with group conflicts, which were not necessarily
“of an industrial relations kind”, but which “usually have negative impacts”
such as affected productivity, lowered job satisfaction, etc. He also noted that timely dealing with grievances was important, as if a conflict goes on for too long, “the reputation of the company can become quite sullied”. He provided case studies from his own work which illustrated the importance of dispute resolution in the workplace. In recommending changes to the systems in place, he stressed that “companies need to have confidence in the process,