High cost if employment grievances not settled fairly and efficiently – TCD Policy Institute Study

Posted on: 03 May 2005

‘Growing numbers of ‘individual’ employment disputes signals need for change in Irish employment dispute resolution practices’ A high cost is paid – in terms of days lost due to industrial action or high rates of sickness or absenteeism – if employment grievances are not settled fairly and efficiently. Although collective employment disputes/industrial disputes fell to their lowest ever recorded level in 2004, the number of people seeking to vindicate individual employment rights increased significantly, marking a switch from ‘collective’ to ‘individual’ employment disputes. A range of factors can explain this switch, the most important of which is the growth in the volume and complexity of employment law according to a study launched today at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute by Mr Maurice Cashell, Chair of the Labour Relations Commission. The study, Towards Flexible Workplace Governance: Employment Rights, Dispute Resolution and Social Partnership in the Republic of Ireland, by Professor Paul Teague, a former Visiting Research Fellow at The Policy Institute and holder of the Martin Naughton Chair of Business Strategy at Queen’s University Belfast, assesses the work of the Irish public agencies charged with settling employment disputes and investigates the implications for organisational level dispute resolution of new work practices and human resources management policies.

The paper argues that the Irish dispute resolution system must adopt the principles of flexible workplace governance if it is to remain effective at solving disputes in the context of a rapidly changing economy and labour market. It identifies a number of features central to the concept of flexible workplace governance including: · Acceptance by all employment relations actors of the non-union sector as a feature of employment relations system and that the unionised sector may be able to learn from the dispute resolution practices followed by ‘advanced’ non-union companies · Multiple channels (both internal and external) for the resolution of disputes within an organisation · Arrangements that promote the resolution of disputes close to the point of origin · Recognition by government that new legislation is required to address the relative absence of satisfactory procedures and practices to deal with employment grievances and disputes in some non-union firms. The policy recommendations advanced by the study include · Better integration of the work of public employment resolution bodies such as the Rights Commissioners, the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court · More initiatives designed to resolve workplace conflicts closer to the point of origin. Organisations should be encouraged by the public agencies to use new alternative dispute resolution procedures to resolve employment relations grievances themselves. · Smarter forms of regulation that build non-judicial methods of resolving disputes into employment legislation so that employment grievances can be solved in a fair and efficient manner without recourse to quasi-legal procedures. · Greater emphasis on dispute prevention (as opposed to dispute resolution) in the Irish employment relations. Action in this area will involve social partnership arrangements to be more actively involved in developing workplace initiatives on bullying, sexual harassment and stress -the new employment relations grievances. The report also argues that key existing public dispute resolution bodies, such as the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court, could relatively easily introduce the proposed reforms as they are staffed by highly professional and diligent officials who have displayed an ability to embrace innovations in the past. The benefit of the reform package would be to make labour market institutions more closely attuned to the manner in which employees are managed in the modern workplace. The study is the 18th in the series ‘Studies in Public Policy’ published by Trinity’s Policy Institute. The series aims to bridge the gap between the academic and professional policy communities and to make a real difference to public policy debate in Ireland. Copies of the report can be obtained from The Policy Institute.