Individual work rights put firms on defensive

An unprecedented shift from old-style industrial relations to individual workplace rights is confirmed by yesterday’s Acas annual report.

The report provides conclusive evidence of the trend which has been prompted by a raft of EU directives and recent legislation in the UK.

Employers said it is proof of a sharp swing towards a highly litigious culture among their employees.

Acas chairwoman Rita Donaghy said, "The employment landscape has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. The report highlights the biggest ever shift towards individual rights issues that Acas has witnessed since its creation."

According to Acas, the main catalyst has been the Government’s Employment Relations Act. Of particular significance, it says, was the lifting of the maximum compensation ceiling for unfair dismissal to £50,000. Another move, cutting the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from two years to one, is also said to have boosted the number of claims.

The report shows a 32 per cent rise during 1999-2000 in individual complaints dealt with by Acas conciliators where employees have or want to take their case to an employment tribunal. The figure rose from 124,256 to 164,525. There was also a 40 per cent increase in the number of employees contacting Acas.

But three-quarters of cases it dealt with were resolved before they reached the tribunal system.

Dominic Johnson, the CBI’s head of employee relations, welcomed the confirmation that employers are moving increasingly towards individual relationships with employees.

But he said, "The downside to the individualisation of workplace relations is this emerging trend towards a litigation culture.

"Acas continues to do a fantastic job in conciliating in collective as well as individual disputes but the pace at which tribunal claims are rising is disturbing."

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by Helen Rowe

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