This is a free, statutory service. It is impartial, voluntary and confidential to the parties.
Collective arbitration is different from collective conciliation in that the parties jointly ask a third party to make a decision on a dispute which the parties themselves have not been able to resolve. The process is voluntary. This means that the parties must agree to come to Acas arbitration.
Acas has no power to force parties to agree to arbitration. The process is non-legalistic and the decision of the arbitrator is not legally binding. To ensure the effectiveness and credibility of the process both parties must undertake beforehand, to accept the decision of the arbitrator. In order that everyone understands what it is the arbitrator is being asked to decide, the parties must sign agreed "Terms of reference". The terms of reference may be drafted by the parties themselves or with the aid of an Acas conciliator.
The request for arbitration may arise from the parties' existing negotiating procedures or on an ad hoc basis, perhaps as a result of a collective conciliation where the parties were unable to reach an agreed settlement on a particular dispute. The decision in an arbitration held under Acas auspices will usually be made by an arbitrator (arbiter in Scotland) who has been appointed by Acas from its panel of arbitrators. In exceptional circumstances, the decision may be made by a Board of arbitration, although the process itself remains unaltered.
An arbitration hearing is arranged by Acas on a date and at a venue which is convenient to the parties. It is usually the case that hearings are held at the employer's premises but they can also be held at an Acas office or at some other convenient location, such as a local hotel. The parties are each required to prepare a statement of their own case which they exchange not less than seven days before the date of the hearing. A copy of each side's submission is also forwarded by the parties to the Arbitrator. A brief explanatory leaflet is sent to the parties to provide some guidance on, among other things, how the process operates in practice and the form and content of their statements of case.
The hearing itself is private. The arbitrator will conduct proceedings in an informal manner. The parties are free to choose who they wish to represent them. Sometimes parties ask a lawyer to present their case for them but in our experience the parties normally choose to be represented by those responsible for conducting normal negotiations.
The outcome of the hearing is an award issued by the arbitrator within three weeks of the hearing. Acas undertakes to keep this award confidential and will not release it to parties unconnected with the dispute.
Voluntary arbitration is a long standing method of settling disputes and may be regarded as a last means whereby the parties can resolve the dispute peacefully. It is most suitable where the issue is clear cut or concerns, for example, the interpretation of an agreement. Issues which lend themselves readily to arbitration include, among other things, disputes over pay or job gradings and disciplinary matters.
Arbitration can also be used to settle individual disputes: an individual and an employer might decide to go to arbitration to avoid the stress, possible adverse publicity and expense of an employment tribunal.
Read about 'The role of Acas in dispute resolution' [127kb] in a guest article created for the IDS Pay Report 1054 August 2010 by a member of Acas staff.
What is the difference between mediation, conciliation and arbitration? - Acas' Chief Conciliator Peter Harwood talks about the service.