week, at long last, the Government launched its answer to the woes of the employment tribunal system. Anyone expecting
ministers to wave a magic wand will give the new Acas arbitration scheme two
cheers at best. Employers had hoped the scheme would divert many disputes away
from tribunals into a process of binding arbitration. This would take the
pressure off the over-burdened tribunal system and save employers a great deal
of time and money.
who saw the Acas scheme as the antidote to a tribunal system which has become
too legalistic and is inherently biased against the employer will be
disappointed to discover how little impact arbitration will have in reality.
Only 1,000 unfair dismissal cases will be handled in the first year. This will
make little impact if you consider that last year there were over 53,000 cases
and the total is increasing year on year. It will be like using a small bucket
to bail out a sinking ocean liner.
are also issues about how long the arbitration system will be able to remain
informal – after all, industrial tribunals themselves were originally designed
as an informal way to resolve workplace disputes.
arbitration scheme is very far from being the answer to the costs and red tape
surrounding workplace disputes. To be fair, it is difficult to see what
alternative system could replace tribunals at this stage.
real answer is in strong HR policies. The HR profession has sometimes made
itself unpopular by bearing bad news to industry chiefs about the constraints
put on companies by employment legislation. What the profession must do now is
to turn this into a positive by driving through better management systems that
address the causes of disputes and nip them in the bud. It’s not magic but it’s
the only viable option.