News of the clampdown on unnecessary tribunals could not have come soon enough. The number of employment tribunal cases rose from 115,039 in 2005-06 to 132,577 last year. And with the exception of race discrimination, all areas had an upward trend. The dispute procedures have to take their share of the blame and have given human resources (HR) much to complain about with widespread criticism of their complexity.
Last month we highlighted how crucial it was that the government delivers the greater powers it has been promising to Acas and makes sure the new statutory code of practice is simple and effective enough to put a stop to the pain that has already been caused by the nightmarish procedures that currently exist.
The extra funding for dispute resolution to the tune of £37m should go some way to complementing plans in the Employment Bill to cut red tape and resolve straightforward claims more quickly. This investment is intended to signal the start of a culture change in how conflict at work is managed – away from one where litigation is the first step.
Both the recent Gibbons review of dispute procedures and the Employment Bill points towards a sharp increase in the use of workplace mediation. Organisations now need to focus on these recommendations, to decide when and how to use mediation, and to consider what level of training is needed both within their HR department and for their line managers. No doubt there will be questions about whether to use external mediators or to look at setting up in-house provision and how to embed mediation within existing formal processes.
One thing is certain: there will be a clear need for good quality mediation services and mediation training across the board. Acas chief Ed Sweeney says some of the new funding will be used to ramp up the Acas helpline as the law changes next April. But HR practitioners need to stay ahead of developments within the field, and understand how mediation can be used in the workplace.