Mulvey: 'people are confused'

A new phenomenon of "dispute shopping", whereby workers lodge several claims for compensation against employers, is on the rise, the head of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey said last week.

There has been an "extraordinary increase" in the last 12 months in claims for breaches of employment rights, including unfair dismissal, underpayment of wages and holiday pay, Mulvey said.

The number of claims lodged across various agencies, including the LRC, the Labour Court, Equality Tribunal and Employment Appeals Tribunal, was just short of 40,000 – or over 150 for every working day, he revealed. The commission is handling 14,000 claims a year, compared to only 5,000 five years ago.

Mulvey was responding to Fianna Fáil TD Frank Fahey who claimed last week that there is growing evidence of a spurious claims culture, particularly among people who have come over to work in Ireland in the past few years.

A Sunday Tribune survey of claims under the minimum wage at the Labour Court since 1 January 2009 to date suggested that, of 35 claims, 32 were made by non-nationals. Similarly, of 132 claims under the working time act, 119 were from non-nationals.

"I have anecdotal evidence of people making the same claim in different languages to several different state agencies or courts which have been thrown out. Others then feel this is an easy way to defraud the system," Fahey said.

The Galway TD said he had written to the head of the Oireachtas committee on enterprise and employment, Willie Penrose, asking him to invite Mulvey and others to discuss the issue with the committee and see if the anecdotal evidence was correct.

"There should be some form of sanction against spurious claims. We have a robust system which ensures that workers' rights are paramount and abuse of the system will affect legitimate claims," Fahey said.

But Mulvey said the Labour Relations Commission has to investigate all claims lodged.

"There is a percentage of spurious claims but that is only discovered after the claim is investigated," he said. "There is an element of dispute shopping, and smaller employers in particular do spend a lot of time and money defending these claims."

Mulvey put this down to the recession, which has brought about cutbacks in workers' wages and conditions. People will use every avenue open to them to mitigate the loss, he said.

Also, there are several different agencies and over 30 different pieces of employment legislation under which to process claims, he said.

"People are confused. The system needs to be streamlined, not to curtail a worker's right to take a claim but to make it clearer and easier," said Mulvey.