Claims relating to hours of work rise threefold in 2019

Recently, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) published its fifth Annual Report. The most notable figure from the report is that claims relating to hours of work increased threefold from 2018.

Here we take a look at some of the other key findings from the report and what it all means for employers.

Key figures from 2019

  • Last year, WRC inspectors completed nearly 5,000 workplace inspections.
  • Disputes in the WRC process covered 1.3m workers last year.
  • The WRC recovered €3.9m in unpaid wages for workers. This is an increase of one fifth compared to 2018.
  • The volume of complaints received by the WRC last year increased by 36% to 20,939.
  • 30% of complaints related to ‘out of hours’ issues, 25% to pay issues, 10% to unfair dismissals and 9% to discrimination.
  • The spike in complaints was largely due to collective actions concerning retained fire-fighters and hospital consultants and other complaints involving a firm of bookmakers.
  • Prosecutions initiated by the WRC last year resulted in 125 employer convictions.
  • 383 WRC decisions were appealed to the Labour Court last year. Of the 171 decisions handed down by the Labour Court, 45% were upheld, 21% were overturned and 29% decisions varied.

What do the findings mean for employers?

The fact that hours of work and payment of wages were the two main issues that drove employee complaints to the WRC last year is worth noting. The WRC commented that these figures may be attributable to a small number of collective actions.

Still, it suggests that employees, particularly in unionised workplaces, know their rights and are not afraid to assert them through the WRC.

This further underlines that importance of employers understanding their duties under employment law, as employees appear to be very aware of how employment laws protect their interests.

Inspections and joint operations

Inspections remain a high priority for the WRC as part of its compliance work. 60% of workplace inspections in 2019 were unannounced, while 402 inspections were carried out in association with An Garda Síochána or other state bodies.

WRC activity during COVID-19 crisis

Despite hearings being temporarily suspended, the WRC continues to accept online complaint forms either through the website or via email.

No physical inspections are taking place at the moment. However, inspectors are conducting interviews via phone and requiring employers to securely upload any specific and requested documents. The WRC is guided by Government and HSE advice in terms of best managing the pandemic and should the protocols around on-site inspections change, physical inspections will quickly resume.

Adjudication Officer decisions are also being issued in instances where parties are on notice that a decision is due.

Conclusions

The huge increase in complaints in relation to hours of work in 2019 is possibly most interesting statistic from an employer perspective. Likewise, claims in relation to pay rose by 20% in comparison to 2018 figures. Whether these steep increases are attributable to the new obligations imposed on employers under the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 or European decisions on working time is unclear.

For employers, it’s vital to remain compliant with employment laws. Not only did WRC inspection activity remain high in 2019, but this annual report also indicates that employees are also now asserting their employment rights across a broader range of issues.

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