Rogue employers forced to cough up €1m in unpaid wages after WRC inspections

Almost €1m in unpaid wages was recovered from rogue employers last year following inspections by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a new report has revealed.

lmost half of the cash had been withheld by employers in the wholesale and retail trade.

The WRC’s annual report for 2021 said 1,249 employers were found by inspectors to have breached employment law obligations, with €964,281 in unpaid wages being recovered.

The sums recovered are separate from awards made under the WRC’s adjudication service, which deals with complaints from workers, such as for unfair dismissal and employment equality issues.

The report did not say how much was awarded by adjudicators last year but said €5.1m was awarded in 2020.

According to the report, 4,432 inspections took place last year, involving the examination of employment-related books and interviews with employers and employees.

Some inspections were conducted in tandem with An Garda Síochána or officers from the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners.

The report said the WRC’s inspection activity generally focussed on sectors where the “risk of non-compliance” was been identified, where previous non-compliance was detected, and where intelligence was received.

Sectors targeted included fisheries, where 50 contraventions of employment rights or employment permits legislation, relating to 21 vessel owners, were found.

Seven fishermen were found to not have permission to work in the State.

Also targeted was the agriculture and horticulture sectors, with breaches of employment law found in over half of the 57 inspections which took place.

Five inspections were conducted in the meat processing sector, with three employers found to be in breach of employment law.

Meanwhile, 5,993 complaint applications were received by the WRC last year, which comprised 12,014 individual complaints.

A quarter of these related to pay, 14pc to unfair dismissal and 13pc to discrimination, equality or equal status issues.

The report said equality complaints increased by 20pc compared to 2020.

Of the 1,347 employment equality complaints last year, 323 were in relation to disability and 316 related to gender.

A Supreme Court decision in April last year led to major changes in how WRC hearings are conducted.

The court found legislation governing certain WRC procedures to be inconsistent with the Constitution.

This included the conduct of hearings in private, the absence of a provision for an adjudication officer to administer an oath or affirmation and the absence of a possibility of punishment for giving false evidence.

The judgment required the introduction of new legislation to empower adjudication officers to administer an oath or affirmation.

According to the report, four months of hearings were disrupted until legislation addressing the issues raised in the judgment came into effect.

A total of 370 hearings had to be postponed or adjourned as a result.

The report said all adjudication cases are now held in public, except for disputes taken under the Industrial Relation Acts or where an adjudication officer decides that due to the existence of “special circumstances”, the

proceedings should be conducted in private.

Decisions on cases held in public are now published in a non-anonymised format on the WRC website.

 

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