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Backlog at WRC means people are waiting up to 4 years for employment cases to be heard

One woman has been waiting four years to have her case heard at the Equality Tribunal.

Image: Shutterstock/Pair Srinrat

LAURA* (NOT HER real name) worked for a company for several years before she became involved in a dispute with her colleagues.

She tried to get her employer to intervene, but to no avail, and she felt quite bullied in the situation she was in.

Laura made contact with a solicitor who lodged a case with the Equality Tribunal (which is under the remit of the Workplace Relations Commission – the WRC).

She has since left her job but now, four years on, she hasn’t had an adjudication in her case and says hasn’t even been told when it will be brought forward.

After changes were made to the how the WRC hears claims in late-2015, all new cases are processed under a “streamlined” service but there are still hundreds of cases, like Laura’s, that are left in limbo waiting years to be heard.

Streamlined service

In late 2015, then-Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton said that the streamlined service being implemented at the WRC would reduce waiting times for cases to be resolved.

This service involved the effective abolition of the Equality Tribunal and now all cases that would have previously applied to that area are heard by the WRC Adjudication Service.

Instead of five separate workplace relations bodies – including the Labour Relations Commission, the Rights Commissioners Service and the Labour Court – as had previously been the case, Bruton aimed to unite them all under the WRC banner to create a single body to process a claim from start to finish.

All claims made to the Equality Tribunal before 1 October 2015 are now under the remit of this Adjudication Service.

Among the targets proposed by Bruton was a commitment to “reduce waiting times with a target of three months from the time of complaint to hearing, with decisions issued on average within four months of complaints being submitted”.

By putting all industrial relations under one umbrella adjudication service, and then to an-expanded Labour Court if a decision is appealed, Bruton said the move would reduce costs and increase times by cutting out extra layers of red tape that had previously led to delays in industrial relations cases.

According to WRC figures for the 12 months to 30 September 2016, a total of 892 “legacy cases” – cases referred to the Equality Tribunal before October 2015 – are still awaiting a hearing.

The WRC says in its report that “it is now taking on average between three and four months from submission to complaint to initial hearing date and an average of six to eight weeks for a decision to issue.

A key early target is to halve the latter period. In terms of ‘legacy’ cases it is anticipated that these will be dealt with within a year.

Laura believes that, after waiting four years already, the WRC needs to say why these cases have not been heard yet.

In response to a request from TheJournal.ie, the WRC said that, since October 2015, the Adjudication Service has “processed all new employment rights and equality claims” while also “continuing the processing of the ‘legacy’ cases inherited from the former Equality Tribunal”.

It added:

Since 1 June 2016 to now there have been 181 hearings of these legacy Equality Tribunal cases and a total of 147 decisions have been issued. A further 66 cases were dismissed, for non-pursuit or because they were considered misconceived… The WRC intends to deal with all legacy cases in 2017.

So, taking the contents of their September report (892 legacy cases) and the 147 decisions since June, there are still at least around 700 cases waiting at least a year and a half for a decision to be reached.

If 147 decisions have been issued in the past nine months, it could take four years to adjudicate upon the rest of these legacy cases if they are processed at the same rate.

Former Siptu official Dermot O’Loughlin told TheJournal.ie that a lot of the cases being heard by the adjudication service are quite complex, and the backlog could increase before numbers eventually go down.

He said: “It’s going to get worse, with more cases piling in now on top of that backlog. We could be heading towards a chaos.”

He added that the WRC may have changed how it operates, but the persistence of delays for some people showed that little had changed.

It’s rebranded itself, but there’s nothing more slick going on here.

Laura said she is especially frustrated at this situation given the apparent low number of cases that have actually been adjudicated upon that were filed under the now-defunct Equality Tribunal in recent times, which you can check on the WRC website.

Although this is significantly higher than it may first appear, the search function of the website makes it hard to track down how many of these legacy cases have been actually heard.

Negative Impact

After the dispute in work arose, Laura left her role with the company. She was unable to find work, claiming that many employers in the sector had switched to hiring Jobbridge interns at the time.

The bank wanted my house. I had loads of debts. I’d never suffered from anxiety before, but I started to the longer this went on. I was left in the situation where I didn’t know what was going on and the uncertainty on when this case would be heard really started to negatively affect me.

In terms of contact with the WRC, Laura said that she’d only received one letter from them in the past four years – and that was two weeks ago.

“All the letter said was that they’ve got a backlog. That was clear already,” she said.

Until the case gets heard, she said that she will not be able to close the chapter on her experience in this “toxic environment”.

“Not knowing what’s going on is horrible,” she added. “You’re living with this situation every single day, just waiting for it to be resolved.

I’m just lucky that I had no one depending on me. I’m sure there’s other people out there who may have been waiting as long that have children and families to provide for. It’s just not right.

Read: Unions accuse Bus Éireann of ‘seeking to collapse talks’ around averting strike

Read: Mechanic who left job after employer implied he was a thief awarded €22k

About the author:

Sean Murray

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