Since armed forces retailer Naafi agreed an ADR scheme with professional services union MSF in June last year, there have yet to be any cases which go forward to employment tribunal. Previously, in a typical year, Naafi faced a dozen - many of which were either settled, or the union ended up winning.
In the view of HR director Mike Nicholson, there are good grounds to hail the deal, part of a wider partnership agreement, as progress. "It is early days, obviously, but there do seem to be fewer cases that go to tribunal than previously. With the reduction in the qualifying period, we realised we needed to take a different approach to how we dealt with grievances."
Now, if someone appeals a dismissal using the company's internal grievance procedure and is unsuccessful, the union and management jointly review the way it was conducted. If the union feels there is a case to answer, the matter goes to arbitration, with the arbitrator equipped to award compensation or reinstatement if appropriate - something that has yet to happen in practice.
If the union feels there is no case, the union agrees not to support a member - although he or she is still free to exercise their legal rights individually if they wish.
"If management has acted reasonably, we would advise a member that their chances are slim," says Mike Robinson, an MSF regional officer.
So far, in the few instances that have arisen, the union has agreed that management acted reasonably.
As part of the partnership deal, Naafi has also signed a no-strike deal with MSF for collective disputes and has agreed a binding arbitration system instead. However, in the event of individual rights cases, Nicholson says binding arbitration is not appropriate. "What we wanted were informal, streamlined procedures, not further layers of bureaucracy."
By Stephen Overell