A New Era in Employment Law: the Role of the CIS in resolving Workplace Disputes

March 2016

The Advocacy Support Workers (ASW) Programme with the support of the Social Policy team of CIB, held the third Advocacy Seminar in the Hilton Hotel in Kilmainham, Dublin recently. The theme for the 2016 Advocacy Seminar was A New Era in Employment Law: The Role of the CIS in Resolving Workplace Disputes.

Since its launch in 2011, the ASW Programme has identified trends in advocacy that arise nationally and associated social policy issues that accompany these cases. The ASW team, funded and supported by the CIB Social Policy team, have endeavoured to address these issues with a series of seminars. The aim of these seminars is to provide high level information and training and to explore and clarify the theoretical, practical and social policy elements that arise.

Angela Black CEO of the Citizens information Board delivered the opening speech and said:

“The National infrastructure to support the employment rights agenda has recently changed for the better. The new Workplace Relations Commission represents a step forward for lay advocacy and less formal access to employment rights. It has reduced and simplified the number of employment rights fora, streamlined timeframes and introduced the single online complaint form. These have all contributed to the creation of a more accessible and user friendly system.”

Employment Law cases formed 20% of all advocacy cases handled by the Citizens Information Services (CISs) nationally in 2015. The ASW for the Munster Region, Caroline Roche, gave a brief outline of how the service deals with employment advocacy and the role of the ASW Programme in this area.

Geralyn McGarry, Social Policy Manager, CIB outlined the type of feedback received from CISs: "Employment rights issues feature consistently in social policy feedback from frontline information services as do issues relating to low wage employment and interaction with social welfare income supports. Employment protection issues for migrants are also a recurring theme.”

Other keynote speakers at the seminar demonstrated how the changes brought in by the Workplace Relations Act 2015 work in reality. The first of these speakers was Alan Haugh B.L. the Deputy Chair of the Labour Court. Alan was previously Head of Employment Law at IBEC, Legal Adviser to NERA and Senior Associate at A&L; Goodbody Solicitors. Alan provided a captivating insight into the changes in employment advocacy brought about by the Act which he helped to draft. In particular he brought the audience’s attention to the new structures and enforcement procedures that are now in place.

Next to speak was Hugh Lonsdale a Mediator with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). Hugh outlined the workings of the Mediation process within the WRC including the Early Resolution Process which is still in place. Pat Brady, a former Equality Officer, and now an Adjudicator with the WRC then spoke. Pat explained the inquiring nature of the role of an Adjudicator and gave tips around the preparation of submissions. These talks were both informative and practical giving an insight to practitioners as to how best to support their clients to present their cases.

The seminar continued after lunch with two speakers from the legal profession; Sarah O’Mahoney BL, a barrister practising in the area of employment law, and Síle Larkin Registrar and Legal Advisor to the WRC.

Sarah O'Mahoney BL gave the benefit of her practical experience of working with employment cases. Sarah shared her knowledge around taking a case to the WRC with a particular focus on the representational skills required. Síle Larkin focused on the area of Age Equality and the recent changes around what had previously been perceived as the ‘normal retirement’ age. Sile looked at some interesting recent case law in the area including the McGuinness case which is currently under appeal.

The Seminar highlighted the rewarding but challenging and time consuming nature of working in employment advocacy. The day not only covered many of the recent changes in employment law but also provided important insights into case management from the Adjudicator and Mediator perspective aswell as training around age equality. The Seminar was well attended with over 120 participants and representation from all 24 participating CISs, the Citizens Information Phone Service, National Advocacy Service and CIB. Participant feedback praised the excellent speakers and insights into the WRC Act 2015 and the well prepared presentations and handouts.

The ASW Programme and the Social Policy team in CIB were thanked for co-ordinating and supporting the event.

Attendees pictured at the ASW Conference

Attendees pictured at the ASW Conference

Image of the conference artwork

Image of the conference artwork

The morning speakers at the conference were (from left) Geralyn Mc Garry, CIB Social Policy Manager, Pat Brady (Adjudication Officer, WRC) Hugh Lonsdale (Mediator, WRC) and Alan Haugh (Deputy Chair of Labour Court)

The morning speakers at the conference were (from left) Geralyn Mc Garry, CIB Social Policy Manager, Pat Brady (Adjudication Officer, WRC) Hugh Lonsdale (Mediator, WRC) and Alan Haugh (Deputy Chair of Labour Court)

The ASW and Social Policy team:  Back Row: Adrienne Collins, Social Policy Executive. Geralyn Mc Garry, Social Policy Team CIB, Susan Ryan, Development Manager Offaly CIS, Sheila Kilkerr, ASW Region 5,Caroline Roche, ASW Region 4,Philip Judge, ASW Region 3,Dara Woods, Social Policy Executive Front Row:Eibhlin Harrington, ASW Region 2,Connie Gerety, Development Manager Longford CIS,Nuala Crowe Taft, Development Manager and Anne O’Donovan, Development Manager, West Cork CIS

The ASW and Social Policy team: Back Row: Adrienne Collins, Social Policy Executive. Geralyn Mc Garry, Social Policy Team CIB, Susan Ryan, Development Manager Offaly CIS, Sheila Kilkerr, ASW Region 5,Caroline Roche, ASW Region 4,Philip Judge, ASW Region 3,Dara Woods, Social Policy Executive Front Row:Eibhlin Harrington, ASW Region 2,Connie Gerety, Development Manager Longford CIS,Nuala Crowe Taft, Development Manager and Anne O’Donovan, Development Manager, West Cork CIS

The afternoon speakers Sheila Larkin, BL. and Sarah O’Mahony, BL. pictured with Geralyn McGarry, CIB  Social Policy Manager (centre)

The afternoon speakers Sheila Larkin, BL. and Sarah O’Mahony, BL. pictured with Geralyn McGarry, CIB Social Policy Manager (centre)