As part of the government’s review of employment law strategies to reduce the number of claims which get as far as a tribunal are less controversial, and, some might say, less pro-employer.
ACAS’ current power to conciliate will revert to a duty, and all cases will be referred to voluntary early conciliation before employment tribunal proceedings are started, with an extension of a month to the time limit for bringing claims to allow for this. ACAS has a reasonable track record of success in such early conciliation, but the crunch will be whether they have the resources to cope with the level of work. The need to increase resources is recognised, with the government saying that the additional funding needed will be paid for from the savings made elsewhere. It has to be observed that referral to ACAS in past similar arrangements which operated until 2009 frequently amounted to little more than a few phone calls. Accordingly not too much should be expected from this initiative.
As a longer term measure, the government will be promoting workplace mediation, starting with a pilot scheme in retail organisations and funding the training of a network of mediators. The main reason identified for mediation not being taken up so far is the perceived cost, so the aim is to provide a low-cost mediation option. It seems to be accepted that this form of dispute resolution will be of most use early on in, for example, a grievance or disciplinary process, rather than after a dismissal for gross misconduct when the situation may be more or less irretrievable. Potentially, it could prove a very useful development, and it is pleasing to see longer term planning instead of a knee jerk reaction. However, a similar scheme is already in operation for county court claims and the early signs are that it has very limited success in practice.