Tribunal system reform unlikely to cut cases

The Government has unveiled its proposals for reforming the creaking
tribunal system. These include a move to punish employers and staff who do not
use in-house dispute procedures before entering the system, by reflecting this
in the size of award. There will also be a "modest" charge for staff
who go to tribunal. But will these changes reduce the number of tribunal
claims?

Penalising employers who do not have dispute resolution procedures in place
may have an impact on small businesses with poor internal processes, but it
will make little difference to larger companies which usually have such systems
in place already. However, if the move puts pressure on the one-in-three staff
who go straight to tribunal instead to try to resolve the dispute internally, then
it should cut some of the time and money wasted on defending tribunal claims.

The plan to charge employees a fee for using the tribunal system may act as
a deterrent to those making vexatious claims, but is unlikely to put off the
serious claimant. It will cut the costs of running the system but will not make
it cheaper for employers to respond to claims, nor significantly reduce the
number of cases.

Another proposal to improve consistency throughout the tribunal system may
boost fairness but will have no impact on the rise in claims.

Taken as a package, the proposals are welcome as far as they go, but it will
take more radical changes to curb the continuing rise in tribunal cases. The
best thing that can be said for the plans, is that the emphasis on internal
procedures may give HR managers some leverage in their own organisations for
improving management processes. This means that when disputes do arise they can
be tackled properly – then and there.

By Noel O’Reilly

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