Labour relations agencies ‘overwhelmed’

ICTU president Jack O’Connor has called for public sector resources to be redeployed to support the state’s overwhelmed labour relations machinery, if the Government is “serious about respecting peoples’ rights”.

The union leader said as part of the redeployment provisions contained in the recently ratified Croke Park agreement, as “efficiencies” are found in other areas workers could be transferred to labour relations work.

The call follows Labour Relation Commission (LRC) chief executive Kieran Mulvey telling a weekend conference at UCD, to mark 20 years of the Industrial Relations Act, that, due to the thousands of referrals currently being received, the commission was “overwhelmed” and investigating all the cases was impossible.

He said that in the Rights Commissioner Service there were 47,500 referrals in the last five years and almost 8,500 referrals in the first six months of this year alone, as the full effects of the recession became apparent.

According to union representatives, waiting times to see a rights commissioner are averaging nearly a year — prior to the collapse the vast majority of clients had been consulted within three months.

Employment appeals tribunal cases are facing an average waiting time of nearly 60 weeks.

Mr O’Connor said the labour relations crisis was a result of policies which had favoured individual rather than collective bargaining with employers, which meant people had to separately take measures to achieve their rights.

“Over the last decade unions have effectively been persecuted in this country, with people in effect being denied the right to organise in the workplace and to collective bargaining,” he said. “It should be recognised that collective bargaining is the most effective approach for both worker and employer for ensuring that a large number of people’s interests can be catered for, rather than trying to pursue issues on an individual basis.”

ICTU has also been attempting to draw attention to the growing practice of companies voluntarily going into liquidation just to reopen under similar management, but hiring new work forces on reduced pay and conditions.

Some such companies have continued to receive government contracts while their workers have been unable to get recompense due to the overwhelmed state industrial relations machinery.


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