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Labour Disputes

Find out more about what may happen if a labour dispute arises in the workplace


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in employment


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A labour dispute is any disagreement between an employer and their employees about a work matter. This can include issues of hiring and firing, pay, in-work benefits, or terms and conditions of employment. Employees always have rights, and labour disputes can start when they feel those rights aren’t being respected by their employer. Disputes can also begin when workers feel they deserve better pay or benefits but the employer either disagrees or feels unable to offer an increase.

The most well-known result of labour disputes is a strike, where employees withdraw their labour and refuse to work until their demands are met. But a strike usually only occurs when relations between employees and workers have broken down and an acceptable compromise can’t be reached. There are many things that can be done to help solve a labour dispute before it reaches this point.

Of course, a decent employer will listen to the concerns of their employees and try and work out a solution where possible. Raising potential issues with your boss can be a good way to make sure they don’t bloom into real problems down the road, especially if they affect a significant number of people in the workplace. Trade unions are very helpful in this. Joining a union is a way of making sure employees can talk to management on an equal footing. The union’s goal will be to try sort out your dispute in as satisfactory a way as possible. A union will usually only recommend a strike or other industrial action once all other options have been exhausted.

Disputes that can’t be worked out between employers, employees and/or their union representatives may have to bring in the Workplace Relations Commission. This is the state service responsible for improving workplace relations. The Workplaces Relations Commission offers the following services which may be useful in a labour dispute:

  • Advisory Service: offers advice and assistance to workers, employers and trade union representatives and tries to build better working relations.
  • Conciliation Service: helps resolve labour disputes that can’t be worked out by workers, employers and trade union representatives alone.
  • Mediation Service: give employees and employers an opportunity to work together to solve issues in the workplace.
  • Adjudication Service: investigates potential violations of workers’ rights.
  • Inspection Service: ensures employers are complying with labour laws.

If the Workplace Relations Commission can’t help bring about a solution acceptable to all sides, the dispute may have to go before the Labour Court. The Labour Court will hear both sides and can make recommendations for how the dispute should be resolved. The court’s rulings aren’t legally binding - neither employers nor employees have to do what it says. But as there is no higher authority for resolving labour disputes, it’s usually expected that both sides will honour the court’s decision.

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Published November 26th, 2016
Tags work rights employee rights rights
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