High Court Dismisses Constitutional Challenge to the Workplace Relations Act 2015, WRC Adjudication System and Labour Court

Labour Court Appeals

The validity and constitutionality of the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court had been challenged in the High Court by way of a Judicial Review. The High Court has now issued its decision.

The case is Thomas Zalewski and The Workplace Relations Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General, and an Adjudication Officer (Rosaleen Glackin).

The issue

The issue to be determined was whether the Workplace Relations Act 2015, and everything that flowed from it including the WRC adjudication system and the Labour Court, was invalid because it involved the administration of justice. The administration of justice in Ireland is, according to the constitution, reserved to Judges and Courts.

The Applicant also argued that the procedures employed by the WRC were deficient-for example, there was no provision for taking evidence on oath, no express right to cross-examine witnesses, and the hearings take place in private whilst the administration of justice in Ireland, pursuant to Bunreacht na hEireann, is to be done in public.

Ireland has two principal defences to this argument:

  1. Determinations of Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officers were not binding and enforceable as a party would have to go to the District Court to enforce the decision, therefore they were not administering justice;
  2. Employment disputes have not traditionally been dealt with by the courts-that is, they are not justiciable.

The factual background

The Applicant had been dismissed from his job as a supervisor in a convenience store and brought a claim for unfair dismissal and payment in lieu of notice. The WRC adjudication officer adjourned, after a few minutes, the hearing in October 2016, and it was rescheduled for 13th December 2016.

The parties showed up on 13th December but the Adjudication Officer (AO) told them that the decision had issued and the rescheduled hearing should never have been listed. 

The AO then issued a decision on 16th December 2016 as if a full hearing had taken place, notwithstanding that she was on notice that no hearing had gone ahead.

The applicant claimed the only way the AO could have done this was on the basis of the written submissions rather than on the oral evidence after a hearing and claimed that this was evidence of a systemic failure in the way hearings were conducted in the WRC.

The State agreed that this decision was invalid and were prepared to agree to an order of certiorari setting it aside.

The Applicant also claimed the right to cross examine in order to resolve the unfair dismissal claim as there was a conflict of evidence between the parties and witnesses.

The decision

The High Court found that the decision making under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 lacks an essential characteristic of the administration of justice-that is, the ability of the decision maker to enforce decisions. This requires a court application and the District Court has jurisdiction to overrule the decision of the WRC.

For these reasons the Adjudication officers cannot be said to be administering justice.

The High Court also held that the argument that the procedures under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 are deficient is not well founded and dismissed the challenge to the validity of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

The original claims under the Unfair Dismissals act 1977 and Payment of Wages Act 1991 were remitted back to the WRC for rehearing by another adjudication officer.

This decision is long and detailed and looks at various aspects of the issues touching upon employment law disputes and their determination in Ireland. It is worth a read because it looks at the interaction between the various statutes and the Constitution on the resolution of employment claims, the development of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and the Payment of Wages Act, and how employment law and the resolution of disputes has evolved down through the years.

You can read it here: Thomas Zalewski v The Workplace Relations Commission [2020] IEHC 178