01 10 Bhí mé ag smaoineamh!

It means I was thinking, in a reflections sort of way, about dispute resolution…what else.

Would the logjam of cases at the Rights Commissioner service and the LRC in general be eased if it insisted on greater compliance with the Code of Practice on Discipline & Grievance? or if they used independent mediators and arbitrators as happens in the UK

 And should local procedures be amended to avail of private mediation before upgrading disputes to ‘LRC’ status? 

The CEO of the LRC has recently (again) drawn attention to the strain on his agency from the increased number of cases referred to the Rights Commissioner service in particular.

 Here is a ‘modest proposal’ to address that and the possibility that the LRC and the Rights Commissioner are being used as a clearing house of first instance, rather than parties sorting out problems at the level of the workplace.

 The Code of Practice governing Discipline and Grievance  (SI 146/2000) has a role to play here. It  emphasises its relevance to situations of individual representation.

it says that ‘Good practice entails a number of stages in discipline and grievance handling. These include raising the issue with the immediate manager in the first instance. If not resolved, matters are then progressed through a number of steps involving more senior management, HR/IR staff, employee representation, as appropriate, and referral to a third party, either internal or external, in accordance with any locally agreed arrangements.

 This gives rise to two issues. I made a complaint to the Rights Commissioner service recently about the poor quality of information on the complaints forms submitted by a solicitor (in one case there was NO information!) to be told that the RC service could not insist on any particular level of information. This is extraordinary. 

This suggests that no notice is taken by a public dispute resolution body of the statutory Code of Practice governing grievance and dispute resolution which binds employees as well as employers.  At a minimum the Service should require compliance with the Code e.g. contact with the employer AND some attempt at dispute resolution before admitting a dispute for consideration. In the ‘old days’ this was what trade unions used to be for!

 In the case just referred to three quarters of an hour was taken up with establishing whether the claimant had in fact received her Terms of Employment statement (which she had) before the claim was withdrawn. The claimant’s solicitor simply took her client’s word and didn’t bother to check. Obviously there is not much attraction for solicitors in getting involved in HR! 

This could be avoided by the RC service insisting, or at least encouraging more strongly compliance with the LRC Code of Practice. Elsewhere in legislation the adjudicator is empowered to take non compliance with the code into account. Why though could the LRC not make compliance with its own code a factor in processing a case for a hearing, even if the only sanction was to delay the listing until it had.

If such a facility existed as part of a wider development of dispute resolution skills the LRC (and the Rights Commissioner service) would not be under the pressure it is. And for business and its associated costs the burden of long running workplace problems might be more speedily disposed of in private and at local level.

 Second, the code contains encouragement to use of third party interventions such as mediation at the level of the workplace and the incorporation of this in specific terms as an option in the Code of Practice (SI 146/00) and by extension in Terms of Employment documents should be encouraged. This will assist in expediting settlements and avoiding workplace disruption.

 IBEC has made a strong recommendation in the discussion paper on Institutional reform of Employment Rights/Industrial Relations for a greater role for mediation. However the outworking of this is the issue and what practical expression can be given to the Code of Practice. It also has implications for the text of grievance and disciplinary procedures recommended by IBEC to members as best practise for incorporation in Terms of Employment Information statements or Contracts of Employment.

Pat Brady

Fear ag smaoineamh