The State’s employment rights watchdog had a 20% increase in the number of calls to its customer service line last year and also increased the number of prosecutions carried out against employers.
The National Employment Rights Authority (Nere) also criticised certain job sectors for low levels of compliance with employment regulations and also revealed that the amount of unpaid wages it helped to recover in 2015 was up 40% compared to the same period in the previous year, despite fewer inspection cases being completed.
The lowest levels of compliance were found in the hair and beauty, transport, and food and drink sectors, with issues highlighted in the latter sector in particular, as there was compliance in just 35% of the 565 completed inspection visits, resulting in €283,237 recovered in unpaid wages.
Almost half the completed inspections in the wholesale and retail sector were compliant, with more than €255,000 recovered in unpaid wages.
A total of 86 prosecutions were brought with almost €100,000 in fines handed down. There were also 67 enforcement cases where Nera were called in to enforce awards made by the Labour Court or the Employment Appeals Tribunal, resulting in €48,879 in arrears being paid.
In what is effectively its last annual report, Nera said that between January and the end of September last year it carried out 3,535 workplace inspections and recovered almost €900,000 in unpaid wages.
The review, published earlier this month, covers the last nine months of Nera’s existence as a separate office within the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and ahead of the launch last October of the Workplace Relations Commission.
Nera’s information officers dealt with more than 1,200 calls a week in the first nine months of last year, a weekly average increase of around 200 calls. In the same period, around 3,500 inspections and compliance visits were carried out, around half of which were unannounced.
In the foreword to the report, Padraig Dooley, Nera deputy director, said: “It is disappointing to note that certain sectors continue to have low compliance rates.” The percentage of cases prosecuted rose in the period to 2.4% compared with 1.5% in the previous year.
Employees and ex-employees accounted for 74% of the callers to the body’s customer service unit, which provided information to 48,654 people, a number which was up 12% on the previous year. Around 18% of those contacting the customer service line were employers.
Of the contacts made, 28% were related to employment permits, more than the number of contacts for any other issue. Working hours accounted for 16% of contacts and another 13% of contacts were related to terms of employment, while 11% of people contacting the customer service unit wanted information on redundancy. Payment of wages represented a 10th of queries, while unfair dismissal and complaints both accounted for 6% of contacts made.
There was a small decrease in the number of complaints registered by Nera last year, at 604 in total.
As for employment permits, 274 breaches of legislation were detected, down from 600 in the whole of 2014.
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