Dialogue is the best way to deal with workplace disputes

I read with interest the article about addressing workplace disputes (‘Waiting for the hammer to fall’, Personnel Today, 23 September). I wanted to share with readers what we are doing here at East Sussex County Council to prepare for the change in legislation next year.

In partnership with our local trade unions, we intend to move away from the legislative, confrontational approach to an environment where we actively encourage constructive dialogue. The introduction of mediation is central to this change of approach.

For the past four months, we have been training our own in-house accredited mediators, which include union representatives, lawyers and senior managers. We also have consensus that the current way of addressing disputes isn’t effective in that it is time-consuming, expensive and emotionally damaging for all involved.

Contracts of employment for new staff contain a statement setting out our intention to address disputes at the earliest point, and in the first instance, through the use of mediation. Our employment policies have also been modified where necessary to build in this shift in emphasis.

We have already started to see real benefits of this change in approach, with five successful cases mediated by our own team in the past two months. We are fully aware that the council still has some distance to travel to enable us to achieve the behavioural change we desire, but are confident that with the engagement and support of our union colleagues, we will get there.

Leatham Green, assistant director, personnel and training, East Sussex County Council

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