The role of the Labour Court (the Court) can be broadly divided between its industrial relations work (those issues coming to the Court under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Acts), and its employment rights work (those cases referred to it under any of the employment rights acts). The Court published its Annual Report for 2019 (the report) on 17 June 2020.

The Court received a total of 1,182 appeals/referrals throughout the year. This was a slight (1.1%) increase on the 1,169 from 2018.

Of this total, 479 referrals were received under the Industrial Relations Acts 1945-2015. This was a substantial 20.1% increase on 2018. The majority of industrial relations disputes have already come before the Workplace Relations Commission by way of conciliation, where the parties attempt to seek agreement. Where this fails, the conflict may be referred to the Court for a recommendation at the request of both parties to the dispute. While the Court's decision is not binding, parties are expected to give serious thought to the Court's recommendation. Disputes may also be directly referred to the Court, bypassing the Workplace Relations Commission conciliation stage.

The number of cases completed in 2019 (settled or in respect of which a recommendation was issued) was up 70.1% on the preceding year (from 253 to 432). Additionally, 116 cases were withdrawn by parties during 2019, up 110.9% from 55 in 2018.

The number of employment rights appeals received by the Court decreased by 8.7% in 2019 on the previous year's figure, from 770 to 703.The number of cases completed during the year was up 6.8% on the preceding year (from 426 to 455). Additionally, 226 cases were withdrawn by parties during 2019, an increase of 37% from the 165 in 2018.

The majority of employment rights cases stemmed from appeals of Workplace Relations Commission decisions made under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1997 - 2017, Employment Equality Acts, 1998 - 2012 and the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997. Appeals under this legislation amounted to 55% of cases heard (388). Of these categories, appeals under the Unfair Dismissals Acts proved most successful, with 20% of decisions being overturned. This contrasted with decisions under the equality legislation (11% overturned) and the Organisation of Working Time Act (13% overturned).

The report acknowledges that referrals under employment rights legislation continue to account for an increased share of the Court's workload. These now represent 60% of the total number of referrals, whereas just a few years ago, the total number of referrals was split evenly across both employment rights and industrial relations legislation. The Court expects this trend to continue.

There were 9 industrial disputes in 2019, involving 42,656 workers. This represented a large increase in affected workers from the 10 disputes involving only 1814 workers in 2018. Despite the large number of workers involved, this still reflects a low level of industrial disputes, and the Court attributes this to the ability of trade unions and employer groups to effectively engage with each other and the Court in finding a resolution. The Court believes that many of the disputes it heard throughout 2019 were largely due to the improved economic environment and the demand for pay increases associated with this. Even as employment rights cases continue to occupy a greater proportion of the Court's attention, industrial relations disputes represent the largest example of the Court's influence and reach.

Employers should be aware of the effectiveness of the Labour Court across numerous areas of potential conflict. The Court's completion of 887 cases throughout 2019 is representative of this. The Court, in conjunction with the Workplace Relations Commission, provides employers with access to a quick and streamlined dispute resolution process. Of further note, virtual courtrooms have been in operation since 2 June 2020, allowing the Court to continue offering its facilities to service users.

Originally published July 2020.

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