Rise in the awards made by the Employment Appeals Tribunal
The average award made by the Employment Appeals Tribunal under the Unfair Dismissals Act has jumped from €7,300 in 2007 to €11,400 per claimant in 2008, while the total amount awarded in the same period rose from €1.4m to €2.9m.
The number of unfair dismissal determinations rose from 201 in 2007 to 253 in 2008. The number of awards in excess of €25,000 jumped from fourteen to twenty five during the same period. A further sharp rise in claims and awards in 2009 can be expected as a result of the post December jobs shake-out.
The Tribunal found itself in the front line as the job losses have mounted. Between 2007 and 2008, the total number of cases referred to the Tribunal rose from 3,173 to 5,457. The number of redundancy referrals alone rose by 121% to 1,407, with cases referred under the Unfair Dismissals Acts up to 1,538.
Appeals from Rights Commissioner Service to the Employment Appeals Tribunal rose by 81% to 447 in 2008. The really dramatic upsurge in overall activity has taken place since the turn of the year, with the Tribunal receiving over 4,300 claims in 2009 to date, compared with just 1,900 during the same period last year.
According to a Department of Enterprise press statement, "there was a substantial increase in the Tribunal's output over 2008. The number of cases disposed of rose from 2,807 in 2007 to 4,007 in 2008, which was an increase of 1,200 or 43%."
The rising workload has raised concerns that users of the service will face the prospect of an increase in the waiting period before they can access the service.
To date, the waiting period has not been extended. At the end of May, it still stood at around 28 weeks. However, there is no guarantee that the time lags will not worsen as the large swathe of jobs losses seen since the turn of the year work their way through the system.
According to the Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, the Tribunal is managing to adapt to the new circumstances facing it." Notwithstanding the increase in claims, the Tribunal is coping well with its present resources. This is mainly due to a series of efficiency initiatives, which have resulted in more hearings and the listing of more cases per hearing"
One possible concern is the loss of staff at a time of staff embargo. As yet, there is no evidence of Tribunal staff applying under the early retirement or career break schemes, though this could change in the run up to the deadline.
It is understood that the Tribunal is bundling cases together in an effort to cope with the upsurge and prevent a backlog building up. The Tribunal holds hearings around the country and when a Division arrives in a particular town, claimants from different companies are listed together (although each case is heard separately).
There are now nine Divisional sittings each day, on average, including three in Dublin and one in Cork. There are regular sittings in all larger population centres. A fair number of claims are settled, though many are settled late, when work on setting down the hearing has already taken place.
One big trend is the upsurge in the number of liquidations. Claimants are afforded priority in the list of creditors. As employees do not rank very high on this list many must satisfy themselves with little more than the redundancy payout.
Another recent trend has been a growth in the number of senior managers claiming for unfair dismissal - a product of an increased number of restructurings and shakeouts of organisations. This helps to explain the increase in the average Tribunal award under the unfair dismissals head. Another factor behind the rise is the increased difficulty people are experiencing finding alternative employment whether at all, or at levels of remuneration comparable to that previously enjoyed by them.