The Ombudsman has ordered the release of dozens of records of decisions made by the government’s Labour Tribunals and the Labour Appeals Tribunal over the past five years following an appeal hearing under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law.
An FOI applicant had sought decisions where the respective tribunals ruled on unfair dismissal under the Labour Law. Decisions for 2017 and 2018 were immediately released, but the applicant was told decisions for the years 2015, 2016 and 2019 were not ready for release.
The government had stated that it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources to produce the documents.
A statement from the Office of the Ombudsman said the government had stated its intention to release all decisions and post them on the Department of Labour and Pensions (DLP) website, but claimed it required more time and resources to do so.
While commending the government for its intention, the Ombudsman said it found the time required to review the tribunal decisions relating to unfair dismissal was not an unreasonable diversion of resources.
It ordered the release of the tribunals’ decisions from the remaining years identified in the FOI request within 30 days.
“All decisions made by the Labour Tribunals and the Labour Appeals Tribunal should be available for public review in any case and ought not to require an FOI request for government to produce them,” said Ombudsman, Sandy Hermiston.
The FOI appeal hearing flagged some areas of concern for the Office of the Ombudsman relative to the way the Labour Tribunals managed records and staffed operations.
According to the decision issued today, the Ombudsman found it “troubling” to read statements from the DLP and the Labour Appeals Tribunal secretary about the general lack of resources available for the important work of the tribunals, including compliance with the FOI Law.
The secretary also indicated a lack of control over tribunal records and staff members’ uncertainty as to their location.
“This is a serious issue, since the management of all records, especially important records such as tribunal decisions, is a key prerequisite for an efficient and effective public service,” said Jan Liebaers, Deputy Ombudsman.
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