Government publishes plans for workplace dispute reform

The Government has today published its plans to overhaul the way in which workplace disputes are resolved, as well as introducing an “employer’s charter” to remind businesses of their rights.

Described by the Government as the latest step in its comprehensive review of employment laws, the consultation outlines a number of ways in which the workplace disputes system could be changed, with the main goals being to reduce the number of tribunal claims and to speed up claims that do arise.

According to the Government, the key objectives of the proposals are to:

  • give businesses greater confidence to hire new staff by increasing the qualifying period for employees to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years;
  • encourage parties to resolve disputes between themselves as early as possible;
  • speed up the tribunal process; and
  • tackle weak and vexatious claims.

The Government also says that the Ministry of Justice will launch a separate consultation into the issue of introducing fees for bringing tribunal cases and appeals. The Government says this is “to ensure that users contribute towards the running of the system”, but another outcome of the charge is that it will deter some employees from pursuing a claim.

The consultation, which will run until 20 April, has been welcomed by business groups. John Cridland, CBI director-general designate, said: “For far too long the tribunals system has put the interests of lawyers above those of employers and employees. Given that 2010 saw a 56% rise in tribunal claims, the Government must look at ways of strengthening the process.

“It is in everyone’s interests that disputes are resolved swiftly and fairly. Introducing an element of charging would help weed out weak and vexatious claims, clearing the way for more deserving cases to be heard,” he added.

Steve Radley, director of policy at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, agreed, saying: “These proposals are a potentially welcome package of reforms to the employment tribunal system. In taking this forward, the Government must develop a firm approach that will help deter spurious claims and simplify the system, whilst ensuring that mediation is the first port of call and a recourse to legal action the last.

However, Radley added that the Government needed to accompany its proposals with clearer plans on how to create jobs growth. He said “In recent years employers have become fearful of the impact of employment legislation and the charter is a positive first step in clarifying what they can and cannot do. However, the bigger picture remains how we sweep away the barriers to growth and make a difference to employers’ ability to create the private sector jobs we need. This will require far more radical action.”

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