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Acas' response to the Government's Review of Dispute Resolution

Monday 01 January 2007

The Acas Council responded to the Government's Dispute Resolution Review on 20 June 2007. The Council believes that the Review sets out a constructive agenda for the future, and that Acas is uniquely equipped to serve as the key delivery agent for many of the measures it proposes.

See pdf icon Resolving disputes in the workplace - Acas' response [295kb]. The main points are:

  • the current statutory dispute resolution procedures should be repealed, the 'one size fits all' approach to all forms of employment dispute is inappropriate, and the procedures are too focused on process and penalties;
  • new statutory guidelines on fair workplace procedures and resolving disputes should take the form of a revised and strengthened Acas Code of Practice (or perhaps more than one Code), backed-up by non-statutory guidance material in printed and web-based form;
  • the law concerning procedural fairness in unfair dismissal cases must be reviewed if the statutory procedures are repealed; but Council was unable to offer unqualified support for any of the options put forward in the consultation document;
  • there is a need for a comprehensive independent advice service, and the Acas Helpline and website offer a well-established, trusted and effective foundation from which this service should be built;
  • the Employment Tribunal application process should be redesigned to provide a single entry point through the new advice service, so that claimants receive information about the tribunal process and alternative options before they put in their claim. However, its role must be that of a 'gateway' which enables prospective claimants to make an informed choice as to how to address their problems; not a 'gatekeeper' to dissuade them from exercising their rights;
  • many of the more straightforward claims centred on financial issues might benefit from a faster and more cost-effective approach. This should be based on streamlining the 'fast track' tribunal process rather than introducing compliance officers. However, in respect of some cases where the employer is insolvent it may be appropriate to provide for administrative decisions instead;
  • Acas should be resourced to enable dispute resolution services to be made available to parties at an earlier stage, mainly by way of more proactive use of our statutory powers to broker settlements before a claim is lodged;
  • fixed conciliation periods have served no useful purpose and should be abolished;
  • there is nothing to be gained from standardising the time limits for different types of claims, but it will be vital to review the way time limits operate to allow time for dispute resolution where a claimant raises a potential claim at a late stage; and
  • employment tribunals do not require new powers to penalise parties who do not engage in dispute resolution, or to deter weak or vexatious claims. Tribunals can and already do play an important part in encouraging dispute resolution through proactive and constructive case management, and new initiatives to enhance this should be supported and expanded.