Press Release 2 June 2020
Surge in Covid-19 job concerns needs immediate response from new Government
Community Law and Mediation sees 196% rise in employment rights consultations
Urgent action is required by any incoming Government to ensure employees` rights are protected during the Covid-19 emergency and any economic recovery, according to community law service Community Law & Mediation (CLM).
CLM is reporting a 196% increase in consultations on employment issues with consultations on breaches of contract, unequal treatment and difficulty accessing payments.
It says people affected by employment-related issues should be allowed access free legal aid to challenge unfairness, discrimination or mistreatment at work.
Rose Wall, CEO of Community Law & Mediation, said: "We understand that the impact of Covid-19 on businesses has been unprecedented. However, now more than ever, employers must respect the rights of their employees and the legislation that upholds those rights.
Currently fears over employment rights represent by far the largest demand on our services. Since the end of March, we have provided consultations on almost 100 employment cases – a 196% increase on the same period last year. This has placed our services at capacity, but the demand in the wider community is clearly significantly higher.
People are feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable to the added complexities that COVID-19 now brings to the workforce. With the number of people unemployed now at 1.1million and set to rise in coming months, it will become increasingly difficult to challenge discrimination or mistreatment in the workplace. We must protect our workers and ensure that legal aid is accessible to all – this is why we are calling for urgent reform and expansion of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in the next Programme for Government.”
Community Law & Mediation has written to Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party asking them to prioritise reform of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in the next Programme for Government [further details in the table below]. The ask is that all employees will have access to legal aid and can be fairly represented in the Workplace Relations Commission.
In place of its usual face-to-face services, Community Law & Mediation is running free legal advice clinics by phone from anywhere in the country. Appointments for phone consultations can be booked on 01 847 7804.
For further details on this press release, please contact:
Email: Elizabeth Devine, Communications Manager: EDevine@communitylawandmediation.ie
Phone: 087 697 5677
For further information visit our website: www.communitylawandmediation.ie
Follow us on: @CLMirl
NOTE TO EDITORS
About Community Law & Mediation.
CLM supports more than 3,000 people annually through its range of services, which include free legal advice and representation; information and education; and mediation and conflict coaching. It operates two community law centres, CLM Northside (Dublin) and CLM Limerick, and partners with other organisations to provide outreach advice clinics around Ireland.
Community Law & Mediation (CLM) was established in Coolock in 1975 as the first independent, community-based law centre in Ireland. Its mission is to provide people in our communities with expert legal, mediation, and education services they would not otherwise have access to and in doing so, to address underlying issues of injustice and exclusion.
Note in relation to employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission.
Employment equality law can be complex and technical and the clients that CLM assists are often working in low paid, precarious jobs, and cannot afford the services of a lawyer.
While the intention in creating the WRC was to remove the need for lawyers from the workplace disputes process, it is our experience that, in practice, employers tend to engage legal representation which creates a real cause for concern from the point of view of equality of arms and natural justice.
There are other accessibility issues with the WRC too, such as the increasingly online process, and the Labour Court’s requirements for “front loading” appeals with detailed written submissions, often from unrepresented lay litigants. The WRC requires written submissions in advance in employment equality claims, creating an often insurmountable barrier for Claimants.
The short time periods within which claims must be submitted to the WRC also acts as a barrier. Most claims must be submitted within six months, with an extension to 12 months in very limited circumstances. For an individual who is emerging from a difficult experience, this is an extremely tight deadline.
Breakdown of proposed reforms to the Government Legal Aid Scheme.
So that people can access legal aid in all areas of law, including appeals before the Workplace Relations Commission or the Social Welfare Appeals Office. For example, a person experiencing discrimination in the workplace cannot currently apply for legal aid for employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission.
The existing means test is overly strict and out of touch with the reality of the cost of living, with the result that people on low incomes, who cannot afford a solicitor, are denied legal aid.
So that waiting times to access legal aid are reduced. Waiting times for a first consultation can be an average of 38 weeks in some parts of the country. This is simply too long to wait and can cause issues for those seeking legal remedies with strict time limits such as Judicial Review, which has an effective time limit of three months.
So that stronger links can be developed with disadvantaged communities through education in relation to rights and through campaigns for law reform on issues affecting those communities.
The review of access to justice, commenced by the Joint Committee on Justice & Equality last December, must be revisited when the new Committee is in place.