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HR managers struggling with employee relations amid compliance burden increase, says employment law expert

Ibec’s Nichola Harkin made the comments ahead of the company’s Employment Law Conference in April

The Ibec Employment Law Conference takes place in the Royal Dublin Convention Centre on April 18th. “The theme of this year’s conference is The Employment Paradox – Nurturing relations, navigating regulations,” says Ibec head of Employment Law Services Nichola Harkin.

“What we have found over the last couple of years is that the level of the compliance burden has increased very significantly,” she adds. “HR practitioners are so focused on keeping up with new legislation and regulations that they are struggling with nurturing employee relations and doing their primary job. We don’t want to get to a point where compliance gets to a level where employee relations are forgotten about. We are working with members to help them achieve a balance between nurturing relations while complying with regulations.”

She notes that the pace and scale of new Government policy driven labour market costs and the uncoordinated manner in which they are being introduced by various Government departments is a huge cause of concern for employers.

These changes are generating significant additional costs for employers. In a recently published analysis, Ibec showed that policy changes in areas such as the commitment to a living wage by 2026, the introduction of auto-enrolment pensions, increases in employer PRSI, the non-indexation of PRSI thresholds, broadening of statutory sick pay and a range of additional leave entitlements will add over €4 billion annually to the wage bill of Irish employers.


And this is without taking consequential cost increases into consideration. “Organisations that already pay above the minimum wage will feel the need to maintain that differential,” she points out. “And employers with wage structures that have the minimum wage as their floor will probably need to increase wages across the board. Workers will naturally look for pay increases to maintain relativity with the new wage floors. Many companies in the most exposed sectors are expecting increases in their wage bills in the order of 25 per cent over the next 24 months as a direct result of Government policy measures. This is particularly challenging for businesses in high labour cost, low margin sectors.”

Harkin is quick to point out that Ibec is not actually opposed measures like auto enrolment pensions and statutory sick leave. “These things have merits in their own right,” she says. “But the uncoordinated nature of their introduction is a problem. Ibec has recognised that improving conditions for workers in a sustainable way is important for social stability. However, we have consistently called for a co-ordinated and measured approach, which takes account of the cumulative cost and burden of administration for employers to be applied.”

The environment is difficult to say the least. “It’s a really challenging time to be an employer or HR professional. We are trying to help them to navigate their way through these challenges. Even employment law practitioners are struggling to keep up.”

Ibec’s role in influencing employment law policy and engaging with key stakeholders at an early stage in policy development makes it uniquely well placed to assist employers in this regard.

“As well as influencing policymakers to ensure business needs are taken account of, we are also in a very strong position, given our involvement at such an early stage of policy development, to provide practical insights and guidance to employers on implementing and complying with new rules,” she says. “The great thing about Ibec is that we are at the heart of employment law policy as it is developing. Our team of employment law solicitors is right down in the weeds of new employment and industrial relations nationally and at a European level before it comes into force and can provide the practical advice our members need when it comes to compliance.”

It also means the organisation can represent its members in often complex cases relating to the interpretation and implementation of new rules. “This has been evident in our successful representation of members in the first WRC cases relating to new statutory sick leave rules,” Harkin points out.

The Ibec Employment Law Conference will offer practical guidance for employers who are struggling with compliance as well as a range of other areas. “Ibec’s employment law experts and guests will provide employers and HR professionals with invaluable insights and practical advice on how to keep up with developments around areas such as AI, statutory sick pay, work life balance, retirement, pay transparency and more. We had more than 300 people in attendance last year and we are hoping for the same if not more this year.”