Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Stephen Farry launches wide-ranging employment law consultation

DEPARTMENT FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry today launched the most far-reaching review of employment law that has been undertaken by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The consultation seeks views on a range of policy proposals designed to improve the handling of employment disputes and reduce unnecessary regulation on business, whilst preserving employees’ entitlements.

Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry said: “Historically, we have sought to mirror Great Britain with respect to employment law matters. However, where it is in the best interests of Northern Ireland, I am committed to developing local solutions that meet our community’s specific needs. That is why I have secured the Executive’s agreement to launch the most significant public consultation on employment law policy since the establishment of the current Assembly.

“I want the review to inform recommendations designed to stimulate business confidence whilst maintaining the rights of individual employees. Getting the right balance will always be challenging and will require partnership and a degree of flexibility if we are to create an employment relations system that enhances competitiveness and also offers employees the right working environment."

The consultation explores options for extending the Labour Relations Agency’s dispute resolution services and considers a range of employment law reforms relating to unfair dismissal, collective redundancy consultation, compromise agreements and public interest disclosure.

The Minister concluded: “The review will be guided by better regulation principles, and has the ultimate objective of strengthening Northern Ireland’s reputation as a good place to work and to do business. I encourage all stakeholders to engage in this vital consultation process.”

The consultation will last for 16 weeks, beginning on Tuesday 16 July 2013 and closing at 5pm on Tuesday 5 November 2013. The consultation document can be found at:http://www.delni.gov.uk/consultation-zone. 

Notes to editors:

1. The scope and nature of the review of employment law has been determined through dialogue with stakeholders, initiated by a discussion paper published by the Minister in May last year. Since then, the Department has continued to have extensive engagement with the employment relations community, which has proved invaluable in identifying those policy areas which merit further detailed examination through public consultation.

2. The Employment Law Review will consult on the following policy proposals:

· Routing of potential tribunal claims to the Labour Relation Agency in the first instance, to encourage resolution without a legal process;
· a neutral assessment service that would provide parties with a more informed understanding of the potential outcome of their dispute, if not resolved between them;
· Consideration of the merits of extending the current qualification period for unfair dismissal;
· Consideration of the merits of amending collective redundancy consultation periods;
· A review of the existing policy for compromise agreements, including the potential for introducing a process that might allow for an employer to have a ‘protected conversation’ with an employee about sensitive issues such as performance that would not be admissible in an unfair dismissal tribunal hearing;
· A review of the legislation governing Public Interest Disclosure.

3. The Minister has also commissioned a number of discrete projects that are being taken forward separately from this public consultation process. These projects include:

· A review of the Rules of Procedure governing industrial tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal;
· Examination of the Working Time and Conduct of Employment Agency Regulations under better regulation principles, with a view to reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. (The outcomes of this project will also inform a wider review of all subordinate legislation that the Department will take forward in partnership with business and employee representative bodies.)

4. The Department’s response to the 2012 discussion paper can be found at: http://www.delni.gov.uk/employment-law-discussion-paper-departmental-response.pdf

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