Early Conciliation - an insider's view: Andrew Cowler
Friday 04 April 2014Andrew Cowler, Acas Conciliator, talks about Acas' Early Conciliation service launching on 6 April 2014.
I'm Andrew Cowler, an Acas conciliator based in the Westcountry, and I'm going to be blogging about Early Conciliation - launching this Sunday 6 April. I'll be looking at how it's working during the early stages and whether or not it'll hit the ground running. We hear a lot about new laws, policies and initiatives in my job, so my aim is to give an insight to what it really means for us on the frontline. In this first blog I'll be talking about how we got here and our expectations.
Acas have been conciliating to help avoid employment tribunals for a very long time. When somebody makes a claim to the employment tribunal we automatically offer to help resolve it - in fact it's a legal duty for us to do that. We're so good at this that around half of all claims are settled by Acas and another quarter are withdrawn. On the basis that you can never have too much of a good thing, Acas were given the power to conciliate on workplace disputes where there wasn't yet a tribunal claim. This was called Pre-Claim conciliation (PCC) and launched in 2009 to help resolve situations as early as possible before things enter the court system.
Early Conciliation builds on the experiences from our Pre-Claim Conciliation service. They're similar in that no claim has yet been made and the first an employer will hear about it is when they get a call from someone like me. When I started conciliating on PCC cases, the thing that surprised me more than anything was just how willing employers are to speak to us. An estimated 75% of PCC referrals do not go on to become employment claims and both employers and employees have said they would recommend it. Research shows that using PCC costs an employer £475 in staff time, legal costs and administration compared to £3,700 if the claim goes to a tribunal hearing, so it's no wonder businesses like it!
Early Conciliation simply takes things to the logical next step - employees will have to notify Acas that they want to make a claim to an employment tribunal and won't be able to make a claim without doing that. This gives us the chance to sort things out quickly if both sides agree to take part. EC will still be impartial, independent and confidential. We don't judge either side, but if an agreement is reached it will be legally binding. Oh yes, and it's free. The introduction of employment tribunal fees and penalties for employers means there's a lot more financial risk for both sides now if things go to court, so an opportunity to work things out through Acas without all the risks seems like a no-brainer to me.
I'm really looking forward to Early Conciliation. In terms of my role I don't think it's going to make a huge amount of difference because conciliation is conciliation - it's just that we've got a month to sort things out and I think we're going to be doing things in more depth and be more proactive. From my point of view Early Conciliation is a really positive way to help resolve disputes early and with the minimum cost or stress to both sides. It makes the most of what we do best and I'm confident it'll be a success for everyone involved, no matter which side of the table they're on. Take a look at my video where I answer key questions that have been on people's minds about EC.
It'd be great to find out what you think. Leave your comments below and I'll do my best to include them in my next blog. If you want to know more about early conciliation in the meantime see Early Conciliation or call our helpline on 0300 123 1100.