The number of applications reaching employment tribunal has decreased for the third consecutive year, according to figures in the Acas annual report 2003, published last week.
Total applications handled by the arbitration service have fallen from 104,000 to 94,000 since 2001 - a drop of almost 10 per cent. The number withdrawn or settled before reaching tribunal has increased, with 77 per cent not progressing any further than the Acas stage compared with 75 per cent the previous year.
Rita Donaghy, Acas chair, believes the organisation has had a big part to play in this.
"Our good practice guidance helps employers avoid falling foul of employment law," she said. "By having the right sort of discipline and grievance procedures in place, organisations can ensure that problems are dealt with promptly before getting to the stage of an employee putting in an application to a tribunal."
She claims Acas also played an important role in reducing the number of applications that were settled or withdrawn.
"We have a statutory duty to contact both employer and employee when an application is lodged," said Donaghy. "It is a tribute to the skill of Acas staff in conciliating between the parties that the number of cases reaching tribunals continues to fall."
She added that Acas would play a key role over the coming year as further employment legislation is introduced, including the EC directive outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief at work. The remaining Employment Act provisions on statutory discipline and grievance procedures are also due to come into force in 2004.
"With our unique perspective and practical experience we expect to contribute to the current and upcoming debates and will play a central role in helping organisations implement changes successfully," said Donaghy.
By Ben Willmott
-There were 94,453 applications in to tribunals 2002-2003 (compared with 98,834 in 2001-2002), covering 162,932 different complaints
-Of these, 77 per cent were settled or withdrawn, and therefore didn't progress any further than the Acas stage (compared with 75 per cent last year)
-Unfair dismissal continues to be the largest category of complaint with almost a third of applications, followed by applications under the Wages Act (almo