The long-awaited alternative to employment tribunals will be launched this month when the Acas arbitration scheme is put before parliament.
The scheme aims to cut the number of cases going to tribunal by offering the option of confidential and binding arbitration. If approved, it will be operational by spring 2001 and carried out by 100 experienced arbitrators.
Acas estimates one in seven unfair dismissal cases (about 1,000) could be dealt with outside the tribunal system next year. At the moment, about 43 per cent of all claims concern unfair dismissal. Acas will produce guidance for the scheme by March.
The move has been eagerly awaited by HR managers. Terry Mills, personnel director-commercial of Dairy Crest, said, “Anything that speeds up the process has to be good. Business can ill afford the additional costs of tribunals in the current climate.”
The scheme will aim to reduce the amount of legal procedure. James Hoggart, personnel manager at Reading Borough Council, said, “It is getting back to the original principle of tribunals – a quick, straightforward resolution for disputes. With all the lawyers involved, this became lost in the machinery.”
The scheme does commit those involved to reach agreement. Rita Donaghy, chair of Acas, told Personnel Today that applicants will have to sign a waiver agreeing they can’t back out of it.
The scheme, proposed in 1998, has been delayed because of legal concerns about its compatibility with the Human Rights Act.
David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at Engineering Employer’s Federation, said it would be “a useful experiment” but thinks firms should develop procedures in-house that prevent the need for arbitration.
By Mike Broad
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