Failing Acas scheme set for major revamp

Britain’s conciliation service still plans to relaunch its controversial
individual arbitration scheme, despite attracting fewer than 50 cases since its
launch three years ago.

The Acas Individual Arbitration Service has been used just 41 times since
its launch in 2000, despite the promise of a faster and more informal
alternative to employment tribunals.

The service, which is only used for unfair dismissal or flexible working cases,
represents a tiny fraction of the 94,000 applications to Acas during the last
year.

Andrew Wareing, director of strategy at Acas, admitted he was disappointed
by the figures, but hoped the relaunch could happen by April next year.

"There is a low take-up and it’s not really caught on. But there is a
high satisfaction rate for those who have used it," he said.

Wareing defended the scheme, blaming a lack of awareness among employers and
an unfamiliarity with the actual process for the low numbers.

"The concept is not flawed but hasn’t been sold enough. Starting
something from scratch is a long process. We need to raise awareness because
employers are nervous about a step into the unknown," he added.

The problems have been compounded by the scheme’s incompatibility with the
law in Scotland, so Acas cannot re-launch it nationally until the legal
problems have been resolved.

The individual arbitration scheme has been dogged with problems since its
inception in autumn 2000, when it was launched 18 months late.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Mike Emmott said it
hadn’t been sufficiently marketed, and inertia among employers and lawyers had
led to the scheme’s failure.

Its rulings are binding and confidential, with no right to appeal and its
findings are not a matter of public record.

The maximum £50,000 limit on compensation still applies and the scheme was
supposed to speed up the dispute process and free up the courts.

Peter Schofield, head of legal affairs at the Engineering Employers
Federation (EEF), said the scheme has a profile problem, with just two EEF
members electing to use it. "Few people have heard about it and because
it’s relatively uncharted territory, lawyers are nervous about recommending
it," he said.

However, he said manufacturing firms were attracted by the confidentiality
of the scheme and that interest was growing.

By Ross Wigham

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