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Mediators 'can't cope' with surge in disputes

THE head of the main state mediation body has revealed that it cannot cope with an "explosion" in disputes between workers and employers caused by a record rise in joblessness.

Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey said the agency could not continue to process the high level of referrals to its rights commissioners, mainly from people who had lost their jobs.

The mediation body's new annual report reveals major delays in processing claims as it struggles with the highest level of referrals in its history.

But the Government's embargo on recruitment means it cannot take on new staff.

There were 9,700 cases referred to rights commissioners in the first seven months of this year -- more than the total for 2007.

According to the annual report, last year saw the highest level of referrals to date, at 14,596 -- an extraordinary 33pc increase over the previous year.

This is a massive increase on the level in 2001, when there were just 4,156 referrals.

Mr Mulvey said he was extremely concerned, as the figure was likely to soar to 16,000 by the end of this year.

Rights commissioners investigate individual and small groups of workers' claims and grievances under a variety of legislation, including maternity, minimum wage, unfair dismissal, and employment permits acts.

"The service is not equipped to cope with this level of referral -- where every complaint must be scheduled for investigation," Mr Mulvey said.

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