Pressure builds for tribunal ‘shake-up’

The Government has to overhaul the employment tribunal system and introduce
more measures to prevent workplace disputes going to tribunal, according to a
report by a government-appointed taskforce.

The Employment Tribunal Taskforce’s report, released last week, claims
disputes can be solved at an earlier stage through schemes that promote
mediation within organisations, the development of better internal grievance
procedures and greater use of external grievance services.

Compensation culture has fuelled a huge rise in tribunal applications over
the past decade, with the CBI estimating cost to business at £663m a year.

Madeleine Allen, HR director of Applied Materials, said: "The whole
area needs a big shake-up. It is important that changes are made and more
mediation is made available – if a case gets to tribunal there is a tremendous
amount of cost. We need interim steps before we get there."

While Acas figures released last week show a marginal drop in tribunal
applications (see graph), Rita Donaghy, chair of Acas and member of the
taskforce, warned that in the short-term forthcoming employment legislation
will drive up numbers.

Denise Keating, head of people proposition of Marks & Spencer, said:
"Employers are worried we are developing a litigation culture similar to
the US. If changes are made, when a case gets to tribunal it will be robust. It
has been too easy to fill in a form and rush to tribunal."

The Employment Bill, due to become law next year, will promote internal
grievance procedures and conciliation in organisations, but many employment law
experts felt it did not go far enough (News, 12 March).

The taskforce also proposes that a high-level, co-ordinating body be set up
to ensure greater consistency in tribunal decisions across the country.

The DTI will consider the proposals and respond in the Autumn.

The Tribunal Taskforce’s proposals include:

– use of tribunal proceedings as a
last resort after all other alternative routes for the resolution of disputes
have been exhausted

– greater co-ordination and consistency of practice – with a
new co-ordinating body playing a central role

– an emphasis on early disclosure of information

– an emphasis on preventative work and the identification of,
and learning from, best practice

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