In December 2006, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced an independent review of Government support for resolving disputes in the workplace which considered the options for simplifying and improving all aspects of employment dispute resolution. The review concluded in March 2007 and recommended complete repeal of the statutory dispute resolution procedures. The Government sought views on the way forward through its March 2007 consultation ‘Resolving disputes in the workplace’.
The Government laid the Employment Bill before Parliament in December 2007 to give effect to the main legislative changes needed to reform employment dispute resolution and pave the way for a simpler and more efficient system for employers and employees. The key reforms within the Bill are:
Repeal of the statutory dispute resolution procedures and associated legislation relating to the role of procedure in unfair dismissal.
Introduction of a new principles based statutory ACAS Code of Practice which will be accompanied by fuller non-statutory guidance to provide practical help for employers and employees.
Employment tribunals will take account of the statutory Code in making determinations and have discretionary powers to adjust awards by up to 25 per cent. If either party acts unreasonably.
Removal of time restrictions on ACAS’ duty to conciliate after an employment tribunal claim has been made.
Additionally, the Government announced on 6 February 2007 that they were making up to £37 million available to help prevent workplace disputes unnecessarily going to employment tribunals. This extra funding over three years, will allow ACAS to boost its helpline and advice services so that they may help at any stage of a dispute ensuring it is never too late for employers and employees to reach an informal resolution. The money will support increased availability of ACAS conciliation before an employment tribunal claim has been made, enabling the quicker, informal resolution of more disputes.
Other non-legislative measures to improve and simplify employment dispute resolution will be outlined in the Government’s response to the consultation which will be published in due course.
The Tribunals Service has in recent years developed processes for dealing expeditiously with claims in certain jurisdictions. The Government propose to build on this existing good practice by extending the number of jurisdictions which will routinely be listed and determined quickly. The proposals are set out in my answer of 19 February 2008, Official Report, column 650W, to the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). The Government have also announced that additional resources will be invested in ACAS conciliation for cases which are likely to become the subject of an employment tribunal claim, but have not yet done so. This will enable more cases to be resolved quickly and informally.