Kate Nowicki, Director of Dispute Resolution, oversees Acas's work across the country to resolve workplace disputes.
The dark days of winter have coincided with the biggest pressures in employment relations seen for many years. Public sector workers' concerns over pay, coupled with the social and economic hiatus caused by covid-19 (coronavirus) and the current cost of living pressures, have created the perfect storm. Understandably wages are now under the spotlight.
Industrial action is either threatened or underway by many ambulance workers, nurses, railway staff, postal workers, teachers, bus drivers, university staff, and civil servants with others, including firefighters, potentially in the pipeline.
What's the issue?
Pay is the headline issue, but there are other issues, such as service modernisation, that are creating significant conflict between workers and managers.
Whilst disagreements are a natural feature of the employment relationship, protracted disputes and strikes are costly from every angle – economically, socially and emotionally. It will be some time before the full extent of the cost of the current wave of industrial disputes is known and clearly it will be significant.
Whatever the sum is, it will add to our own Acas research on the costs of workplace conflict which revealed that the annual cost of workplace conflict is estimated at £28.5 billion per year.
How can Acas help?
I've been asked many times in recent weeks "Is Acas helping?". The answer is an emphatic "yes, wherever we can".
We've seen a sharp increase in demand for the services of our skilled and experienced staff, who are working round the clock to resolve disputes, many of which are not in the news headlines. That help is often in the background, unseen and unsung, providing advice impartially, confidentially and under the radar.
Sometimes Acas holds formal talks, if that's what the parties want and need, bringing both sides together to work through the issues that are in dispute.
Unsurprisingly tensions can run high, particularly in a long-running dispute. Using an impartial third party like Acas can bring a calm, fresh pair of eyes to help break a deadlock, and to find common ground and a way forward. With skilled facilitation and real depth of experience in disputes, our conciliators draw parties in to develop the solution which will work for them.
Acas has a statutory power to provide conciliation. That power is vested in our skilled conciliators who offer reason, understanding, persuasion, patience and experience – all qualities by which we draw parties together to develop the solution which will work for them.
It is a force for good and with over 500 disputes each year we are highly effective in reaching a positive outcome in the overwhelming majority of situations.
So, if employers and employees are troubled by a difficult dispute and frustrated that it has not been resolved, please contact the Acas helpline. We stand ready to help.