With 200 old cases backed up in the Employment Rights Tribunal, some dating back three years, the newly empanelled tribunal says it is on course to clearing one in five old cases by the end of the year.
And the minister responsible for the quasi-judicial body indicated today that Government may appoint additional panels to hear disputes between workers and bosses.
Tribunal chairman retired Justice Christopher Blackman reported that his team, which was appointed just two months ago, has so far cleared seven cases – the same number of cases that were done in the last three years.
In a press briefing by seven members of the tribunal and Minister of Labour, Colin Jordan, the team attributed case management – the disposal of cases outside a formal hearing – to efforts at clearing the backlog.
Blackman revealed that employees with pending cases that lack the requisite evidentiary support, will be given strict timelines to produce the fact to the tribunal or risk having their matter set aside.
Blackman told reporters: “This is just from the bit that I have been doing and my deputies are still to run their own case management. So that would be two streams to come into play.
“I expect that the 28 cases currently in case management, which have not yet had a hearing, would all be disposed of before the end of this year.
“One of my deputies has already handed down two decisions so far and he tells me there is another one in the pipeline within a next couple of weeks.
“So, my expectation is that by the end of the calendar year, we can comfortably say that we have done a minimum of 40 cases,” he added.
The veteran jurist stressed that the clearing of the backlog would not be done at the expense of the new cases, but instead a system would be set up where these matters will be handled simultaneously.
“We have spent a lot of time on the backlog, but we have also done cases that were filed in 2018 and some of them would be up for hearing within the next quarter. So, the approach is not to let 2018 and 2017 go into backlog. We will be approaching the caseloads simultaneously,” said Blackman.
It was at this point that Jordan revealed that Government was exploring the possibility of setting up additional tribunals, if it is determined that the extra push was needed in order to pick up the pace.
Minister Jordan said: “We have started the process of setting ourselves up to have multiple tribunals meeting simultaneously, if that becomes necessary.
“That included some additional appropriations in the Estimates for additional equipment and possibly additional staffing.
“This is still a work in progress but that is something from a ministry perspective that we are working on so that we could increase the number of hearings.”
The minister further noted: “While we cannot say when the backlog is going to be cleared, we can say that we are going in the right direction.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of cases being heard and being dispensed of in just a few months.
“We know we are going in the right direction because from the margin we are reducing the total number.”