Race or sexual orientation discrimination complaints up sharply last year - WRC

Discrimination overall remains most common grounds for bringing case to Workplace Relations Commission

The number of allegations of discrimination on the basis of either race or sexual orientation made against employers was substantially up in 2023, according to the latest annual report of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

There were 272 complaints of racial discrimination made over the course of the year, an increase of 64 per cent on the figure for 2022.

The number of complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation more than doubled, meanwhile, rising from 23 to 54 in the space of a year.

Discrimination relating to disability or gender remain the most common grounds for complaints, with the numbers relatively stable, but there was a sharp decline in the number of cases rooted in alleged age discrimination, with 176 lodged in 2023 compared with 514 the previous year.


The commission has a wide remit and deals with complaints based on allegations of discrimination in relation to the treatment of the public by businesses or their staff under the Equal Status Acts and between employees by their employer under the Employment Equality Acts.

A total of 733 complaints were made under the Equal Status Acts. Those dealt with under the headings of disability, membership of the Traveller community and race accounted for 407, significantly more than half.

The number of complaints made under Schedule 2 of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 more than trebled to 301, after substantial changes to the legislation intended to afford greater protections to whistleblowers came into effect at the start of the year.

Overall, there was a significant increase in the WRC’s activities, with 6,519 workplace inspections involving 4,727 employers, of which 2,221 were found to be in breach of their employment law obligations. The majority of inspections were initiated on the basis of reports or risk assessment.

Almost 100 were carried out in conjunction with An Garda Síochána while 262 were joint operations with the Department of Social Protection and 157 involved Revenue personnel.

Instances where there were subsequent issues with compliance resulted in 125 prosecutions over the course of the year, with 69 ending in convictions, 35 in companies being given the Probation Act and seven giving rise to charitable donations.

The vast majority of convictions related to companies operating in the food services sectors, mainly restaurants and takeaways, with almost all involving breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the Employment Permits Acts 2003 and 2006 or both.

A total of €1.95 million in unpaid wages was recovered, almost half of it from firms operating in the food services or wholesale and retail sectors.

A campaign of inspections carried out in the first quarter of 2023 with the intention of monitoring compliance with the increased national minimum wage, which came into force on January 1st that year, found that of 672 employers just 135, or a fifth, were already compliant. Two thirds – or 443 – became compliant after the inspection and 72 cases where still ongoing at the time the annual report was compiled, with three companies having been prosecuted.

The number of specific complaints received by the WRC’s adjudication service, which investigates disputes, grievances and claims made by individuals and groups under employment, equality and equal status legislation, was up by 11 per cent to 12,790. Of the individual complaints made, just over a quarter related to pay, with 13 per cent each concerning the areas of unfair dismissals and discrimination, equality and equal status.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times