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Workplace Relations Bodies

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Labour Court

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Background

The mission statement of the Labour Court is "To find a basis for real and substantial agreement through the provision of fast, fair, informal and inexpensive arrangements for the adjudication and resolution of trade disputes".

The Labour Court was established under the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, to exercise the functions assigned to it by the Act. The functions of the Court have been altered and extended by subsequent legislation including the Workplace Relations Act 2015 which provided for the most profound changes since the 1946 Act. Under the provisions of the Act the Labour Court now has sole appellate jurisdiction in all disputes under employment rights enactments

The Labour Court is not a court of law. It operates as an industrial relations tribunal, hearing both sides in a case and then issuing a Recommendation (or Determination/Decision/Order, depending of the type of case) setting out its opinion on the dispute and the terms on which it should be settled.

Recommendations made by the Court concerning the investigation of disputes under the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 – 2015 are not binding on the parties concerned, however, the parties are expected to give serious consideration to the Court's Recommendation. Ultimately, however, responsibility for the settlement of a dispute rests with the parties.

The Court's determinations under the Employment Rights enactment are legally binding.

Functions of the Labour Court

The Court’s functions can be divided between those relating to industrial relations matters and those relating to the determination of appeals in matters of employment rights. With the enactment of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 the Labour Court now has sole appellate jurisdiction in all disputes arising under employment rights enactments.

Industrial Relations

  • investigate trade disputes under the Industrial Relations Acts, 1946 to 2015
  • investigate, at the request of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, trade disputes affecting the public interest, or conduct an enquiry into a trade dispute of special importance and report on its findings
  • hear appeals of Adjudication Officer’s recommendations/decisions made under the Industrial Relations Acts
  • establish Joint Labour Committees and decide on questions concerning their operation
  • register Joint Industrial Councils
  • investigate complaints of breaches of codes of practice made under the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 (following consideration of the complaint by the Workplace Relations Commission)
  • give its opinion as to the interpretation of a code of practice made under the Industrial Relations Act, 1990
  • investigate disputes (where negotiating arrangements are not in place) under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2001 as amended by the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004 and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.
  • Register employment agreements
  • Examine the terms and conditions of employment in a sector pursuant to Section 14 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015
  • Grant exemptions from the obligation to pay the remuneration that would otherwise be payable under an Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) pursuant to Section 21 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015

Procedural Rules giving effect to a number of provisions of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.

The Labour Court has adopted the following Rules which give effect to a number of provisions of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015. The Rules are:-

  • Labour Court (Registered Employment Agreements) Rules 2015
  • Labour Court (Sectoral Employment Orders) Rules 2015
  • Labour Court (Exemption from Obligation to Pay Remuneration Prescribed by a Sectoral Employment Order) Rules

The Rules can be accessed HERE.

The relevant forms on which to make an application are available for download below.

Employment Rights

  • hear all appeals of Adjudication Officer’s decisions under the various Employment Rights and Pension Acts enactments
  • issues determinations in regard to certain complaints of the non-implementation of Adjudication Officer’s decisions which were lodged with the Workplace Relations Commission before 1 October 2015
  • hear appeals of Non-discrimination Notices and Substantive Notices issued by the Equality Authority
  • approve working time agreements under the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997
  • approve collective agreements regarding casual part-time employees under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, 2001.

The Labour Court has adopted Rules pursuant to Section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 as amended by Section 50 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015. The Labour Court (Employment Rights Enactment) Rules 2016 can be accessed HERE.

STRUCTURE OF THE LABOUR COURT

The Labour Court consists of 13, full-time, members - a Chairman, 4 Deputy Chairmen and 8 Ordinary Members, 4 of whom are Employers' Members and 4 of whom are Workers' Members. The Chairman and the 4 Deputy Chairmen are appointed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Employers' Members are nominated by IBEC (Irish Business and Employers' Confederation) and the Workers' Members are nominated by ICTU (Irish Congress of Trades Unions).

The Labour Court also has a legal adviser - the Registrar - appointed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Operational Structure of the Labour Court

To ensure that cases are processed with a minimum of delay, the Court operates in 4 separate Divisions, although certain issues may require a meeting of the full Court. A Division is made up of the Chairman or a Deputy Chairman, an Employers' Member and a Workers' Member. Hearings are held in Dublin and at several venues throughout the country.

Administrative Structure of the Labour Court

The workings of the Labour Court are supported by an administrative service staffed by civil servants. The service is divided into 4 administrative sections - Programming, Secretariat and Joint Labour Committees

  • Programming Unit processes referrals to the Court, arranges hearings and provides information on how to refer cases to the Labour Court.
  • The Secretariat consists of the Court Secretaries. Each hearing of the Labour Court is attended by a Court Secretary who records the proceedings,      subsequently issues the Recommendations of the Court to the parties in the particular case and deals with any queries in relation to the case.
  • Joint Labour Committee Section provides a secretariat to the Joint Labour Committees under the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2015. This section      also processes and submits for registration employment agreements and sectoral agreements under the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2015 and      provides a Secretariat to certain Joint Industrial Councils.
  • I.T. and Services Section deals with internal administration matters at the Labour Court, including Information Technology.

History and Development of the Labour Court

The Labour Court was established in 1946 (following the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946). Its main functions were to adjudicate in trade disputes and to provide a conciliation service. Other functions given to the Court included the establishment of Joint Labour Committees and the registration of employment agreements and Joint Industrial Councils.

There have been many changes to its structure and functions since then, following amendments to the Industrial Relations Act in 1969 to 2015 and the enactments of:

  • the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974,
  • the Employment Equality Act, 1977,
  • the Pensions Act, 1990,
  • the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997
  • the Employment Equality Act, 1998,
  • the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000,
  • the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, 2001,
  • the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003, 
  • the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005,
  • the Workplace Relations Act 2015

An equality service was added in 1975 to deal with equal pay - and later, equal treatment - cases. In 1991, this service, and the conciliation service of the Labour Court were transferred to the newly established Labour Relations Commission. In 1999, the equality service was transferred from the Labour Relations Commission to the newly formed Equality Authority and Office of the Director of Equality Investigations (the Equality Tribunal), (under the auspices of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform) under the Employment Equality Act, 1998.

The Labour Court retained its other functions under equality legislation, including the hearing of appeals and investigating complaints of dismissal under the Employment Equality and Pensions Acts (appeals under the equality provisions of the Pensions Act, 1990 are heard by the Labour Court).

The Court acquired additional functions in 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2003 under the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000, the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, 2001, the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 respectively. In 1999, the Court's remit under equality legislation was broadened by the coming into operation of the Employment Equality Act, 1998.

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 gave the Court responsibility for processing applications for approval of working time agreements as well as an appellate and enforcement function in relation to Rights Commissioners' decisions under that Act.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 extended the Courts functions in relation to equality matters to reflect the widening of the scope of equality legislation.

The National Minimum Wage Act, 2000 gave the Labour Court an appellate and enforcement role in relation to recommendations of Rights Commissioners under that Act, as well as empowering the Court to exempt employers, in certain circumstances and for a maximum of 12 months, from the scope of the Act.

The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, 2001 gave the Court an appellate and enforcement role in relation to decisions of Rights Commissioners under the Act; and responsibility for processing of applications for approval of collective agreements concerning casual part-time employees under the Act.

The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003 gave the Court an appellate and enforcement role in relation to decisions of Rights Commissioners under the Act.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 gave the Court an appellate and enforcement role in relation to decisions of Rights Commissioners under the Act.

The enactment of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 provides that the Court is now sole appellate body for Adjudication Officer’s decisions of the Workplace Relations Commission.

How the Labour Court Works

The Labour Court deals with disputes under

  • Industrial relations 
  • hears all appeals of Adjudication Officer’s decisions of the Workplace Relations Commission in all disputes arising under industrial relations and employment rights enactments

Court of last resort

The role of the Labour Court in dispute resolution is to act as a court of last resort. In other words, local dispute resolution arrangements in the company or organisation, and the other dispute resolution machinery of the State should have been fully utilised before a case comes before the Labour Court.

Investigation method

The Labour Court investigates disputes by requiring the parties to a dispute to provide it with written submissions of their positions in relation to the dispute, and, subsequently, by holding hearings which both parties attend. The hearings are usually held in public, unless one of the parties requests a private hearing. All appeals under employment appeal enactments are conducted in public subject to the right of the Court to conduct part of the hearing in private in exceptional circumstances.

In most cases the Labour Court deals with disputes which are referred to it (the ways in which a dispute can be referred to the Court are described below); occasionally though, the Labour Court will intervene in an industrial relations dispute and invite the parties to come before it.

Referral methods (6): ways in which a case can be referred to the Labour Court.

  1. WRC Referral (industrial relations dispute) - The parties to the dispute have availed of the conciliation services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) but have failed to reach agreement - in this case the WRC, at the request of the parties, refers the case to the Labour Court; or
  2. WRC Waiver (industrial relations dispute) - the WRC has waived its conciliation function in the dispute; or
  3. Labour Court Intervention (industrial relations dispute) - the Court determines that exceptional circumstances prevail in the dispute and, following consultation with the WRC, invites the parties to the dispute to avail of its services; or 
  4. Ministerial (industrial relations dispute) - the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation refers a dispute to the Court; or
  5. Direct Referral - Advance acceptance of Recommendation (industrial relations dispute) – this is where a worker, or workers, in a trade dispute, or a trade union on his/her/their behalf, or all the parties, agree in advance to accept the Labour Court’s recommendation. They can bring their case direct to the Labour Court (under section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969). This may happen where initially the worker(s) referred the dispute to an Adjudication Officer but the employer did not agree to have the case heard by the Adjudication Officer- in such a case the Adjudication Officer informs the worker(s) that the employer has not agreed to his/her hearing of the case and advises Worker(s) that a direct referral may be made to the Labour Court.
  6. Appeal of the decision of an Adjudication Officer. Where a case has been heard by an Adjudication Officer and a recommendation has been issued, either party to the dispute may appeal the recommendation to the Labour Court; such appeals must be made to the Labour Court within 42 days of the date of the Adjudication Officer’s recommendation. The appeal can be on the basis that one or both of the parties does not agree with the Adjudication Officer’s recommendation

NOTE - Section 71 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 enables the Minister, to provide by regulation, for the levying of fees and charges on the users of services to be provided by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court.

The Minister introduced the Workplace Relations Act 2015 (Fees) Regulations 2015 with effect from 26 November 2015. These Regulations prescribe a “relevant service” for the purpose of Section 71 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 as meaning any service provided by the Labour Court to an appellant, in relation to an appeal under Section 44 of the Act, by reason of the appellant’s failure or refusal, without reasonable excuse, to attend at the first instance hearing by an adjudication officer of the relevant complaint or dispute.

In effect, this means that in circumstances where a party who failed to appear at a first instance hearing of the WRC without good cause wishes to appeal the decision to the Labour Court, that party will have to pay a fee of €300 when lodging their appeal. If the Labour Court determines that the party in question had good cause for failing to attend the first instance hearing, the fee will be refunded.

How the Labour Court deals with disputes

There are 5 stages:-

  • Referral
  • Arrange date of hearing
  • Parties make written submissions
  • Hearing
  • Issue of Recommendation/Determination/Decision/Order

Referral;

The appeal should be made within the prescribed time limits using the Single Appeal Form. An acknowledgement will issue to the parties to the appeal and the other party advised that an appeal has been made.

Arrange date of hearing

Provided a dispute has been correctly referred to the Court (see "Referral Methods" above), the Programming Section of the Court will allocate and communicate a suitable date and venue for a hearing to the parties to the dispute as soon as possible after date of referral.

The majority of cases are heard in Dublin, but the Labour Court also holds hearings at a number of venues throughout the country.

Submissions

The parties will then be required to supply the Court with written submissions stating their positions in relation to the dispute. Guidelines on the preparation of submissions, and examples, can be obtained by clicking here

https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/Workplace_Relations_Bodies/Submissions_to_the_Labour_Court.pdf.

Six copies of the submissions should be delivered to the Court, by post or by hand (but not by fax), no later than 7 working days prior to the date of the hearing.

In unfair dismissal and equality cases, separate procedures apply. In regard to these appeals, the appellant shall furnish the Court with a written submission within 3 weeks from the date that the notice of appeal is delivered to the Court. Within 3 weeks of the date on which a copy of this submission is sent to the respondent they are required to file a replying submission. On receipt of submission from all parties the Court will fix the date and place for the hearing.

Hearing

The conduct of the hearing of an appeal will be regulated by the Chairman of the division of the Court before which the appeal is being heard. A party to an appeal may be represented by: -

  1. A Trade Union Representative
  2. A Representative of an Employers Organisation
  3. Solicitor or Counsel
  4. With the consent of the Court, any other person of their choosing

Witnesses who intend to give evidence in the course of the appeal will be sworn before the commencement of the hearing. The Court Secretary shall announce the case and the parties shall stand when the Court enters and leaves the Court. Except in such cases as the Court considers it convenient to take the written submissions as read, each party shall read their submission and the other party will be afforded an opportunity to comment on the submission presented by the other party.

In exceptional circumstances the Court may require a party to provide it with further or supplemental information in writing on any matter arising in the case. 

Issue of Recommendation/Determination/Order

After the hearing (i.e. usually within 3 weeks), the Labour Court will issue, to the parties, its written Recommendation (as to how the dispute might be resolved).

The Court's Decision in these cases may uphold the original decision of the Adjudicator, or vary it, or overturn it.

Parties are advised that recommendations of the Labour Court are published on www.workplacerelations.ie.

Issues dealt with by the Labour Court

The Labour Court will deal with any dispute between workers and employers provided it is referred to the Court in accordance with the relevant legislation.

An alphabetical list of some issues with which the Court has dealt in the past includes:-

AllowancesAnnual LeaveComputerisationContracting outDemarcationDiscipline
DismissalEqual PayEqual TreatmentEqualityHours of Work/Working TimeInterpretation (of scope of Joint Labour Committees/Employment Regulation Orders)
Lay-offLeaveLocal Agreement ProceduresNegotiating RightsOvertimePay Claims
Pay   Claims under National AgreementsPay IssuesPensionsPremiumsProductivityPromotion
RationalisationRecruitmentRedundancyRegistered Employment AgreementsReorganisationSexual Harassment
Shift   PayShift WorkSick PayTemporary EmploymentUnion RecognitionWage Rounds

The Labour Court may be contacted at –

The Labour Court
Lansdowne House
Lansdowne Road
Ballsbridge
Dublin 4

Tel:  +353 1 6136666  (Lo-call 1890 220 228)
Fax: +353 1 6136667

 
 

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