Dispute resolution revolution could lead to big rise in tribunals

Tribunal hearings could increase rather than decrease when the UK’s new workplace dispute resolution system is introduced, an influential figure has admitted.

Michael Gibbons – whose 2007 review led to the creation of the more flexible system – said there was much work yet to do to make it work.

When the Employment Bill comes into force in April 2009, the much disparaged statutory dispute resolution regulations will be replaced with a voluntary Acas code of practice.

Gibbons said he was very happy with how the Employment Bill was worded, but warned it may still not achieve its aim of reducing the number of tribunal hearings. He said mediation bodies had to promote themselves properly to make sure employers and employees felt happy to turn to them with a dispute rather than going to tribunal.

“If the culture change does not happen and the mediation profession does not make people aware of what it does, then I can see a situation – especially in the economic downturn – where there will be more cases going to tribunal,” he told HR professionals at a seminar hosted by manufacturing employers’ group EEF and conciliation body Acas in London yesterday.

Gibbons added: “It is up to people in this room, and other rooms like it, to determine the outcome.”

Tribunals could be given the power to increase financial awards by 50% where employers do not follow the 43-point Acas code, which is currently in draft form.

Gibbons said he was hopeful that the Bill would have a positive effect for employers, giving them more chance to settle disputes quickly, cheaply and effectively.

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