HR doubts over plans to scrap dispute regulations

HR practitioners have little confidence that government plans to repeal the statutory disputes resolution regulations will make life any easier, according to a survey by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.

Although the regulations, introduced in October 2004, have been heavily criticised for their cost and complexity, the study reveals that just 52% of employers believe things will improve if they are scrapped.

Four out of 10 employers (42%) say they think a repeal of the regulations, which set out a statutory three-stage procedure for dealing with grievances and disciplinary hearings, will have little or no impact. A further 7% believe repeal may make matters worse.

Consultation on changes to the statutory disputes resolution procedure ended on 20 June – three months after the Department of Trade and Industry accepted in principle a series of recommendations from former Powergen communications director Michael Gibbons.

The Employment Review study shows that while repeal has the backing of 61% of public sector employers, just 49% of HR practitioners in private sector services firms and 48% of those in manufacturing companies believe it will make a positive difference.

Support for repeal is strongest among smaller and medium-sized employers, where more than half think it will help. Just 42% of HR practitioners in organisations with more than 1,000 employees believe it will improve matters.

The report is based on survey responses from HR practitioners in 147 organisations, which together employ 287,644 people. Organisations ranged in size from just seven employees to 60,000, with a median (or midpoint) of 410.

… but more support for stronger tribunals

The Employment Review survey reveals that most HR practitioners believe employment tribunals should have stronger powers to penalise employers or employees who make inadequate attempts to resolve disputes.

With 58% support among those taking part in the survey, this is the most widely supported of a series of proposals put forward by Michael Gibbons as a result of his review of the statutory dispute resolution procedures.

Although tribunals can already vary the level of compensation paid out when claimants or their employers have tried to bypass the statutory three-stage procedure, Gibbons has suggested extending their powers.

Only one of Gibbons’ other proposals will improve the current situation, HR practitioners believe. This is the suggestion that there should be a fast-track procedure to deal with disputes that are purely about the sum of money to be paid (backed by 58%).

Less than half of the respondents believe there will be any improvement as a result of making alternative dispute resolution services available earlier (48%) or removing the fixed period for Acas conciliation (36%).

… while a few firms try alternative approaches

Just over one-quarter (28%) of those taking part in the research had used alternative dispute resolution approaches that seek to deal with problems less formally and avoid employment tribunal hearings.

This rose slightly to nearly one in three (32%) among those organisations that currently recognise trade unions, and again to more than four out of 10 (41%) of public sector employers, the Employment Review survey shows.

Alternative approaches to dispute resolution were also more common among larger employers. Just 23% of those with fewer than 250 employees had tried alternative approaches, compared with 37% of those with 1,000 or more employees.

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