One of the many organisations hampered by the current crisis was the Workplace Relations Commission. It was dealing with a number of disputes when it was forced to stop sitting and suspend all face-to-face adjudication, mediation and conciliation services to comply with public health guidelines.
The WRC continues to offer mediation by telephone in, suitable cases, to parties whose hearings have been postponed as a result of COVID-19. Even where parties may have previously declined the offer of mediation, the WRC has suggested that they revisit that decision and consider the option of mediating the dispute.
The issues for the WRC have not gone away, in fact they are compounded by the likely increase in potential disputes due to the level of lay-offs forced on businesses during the pandemic.
This adds pressure on the Commission to start clearing the back log of resolutions. A solution though might be found on-line. The WRC has confirmed that it is exploring suitable virtual ICT solutions that would permit mediation to be carried out virtually in a secure and confidential manner.
The Commission said remote hearings would begin on a pilot basis from the end of May for more straightforward cases like trade disputes or complaints relating to pay, working hours and terms and conditions.
If this is successful, it could consider extending this approach to more complex cases, with the intention that the first hearings will be scheduled for July.
The WRC has recently published Guidance regarding alternative approaches to dealing with mediation and adjudication services during COVID-19. Although the Guidance is subject to further review, employers should note that the Guidance in its current draft will be actioned with immediate effect. Accordingly, it is advised that employers immediately review complaints that were previously postponed due to COVID-19 to see whether they might be suitable to be dealt with in line with the alternative adjudication measures.
NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff, whose numbers can be found on our website, www.nfg.ie