It was interesting to read the latest figures relating to the increase in demand amongst businesses for the ACAS dispute resolution service in helping them settle employment issues in the workplace.
A new report related to the performance of the Pre-Claim Conciliation (PCC) service found that demand rose by 24 per cent, equivalent to 6,000 cases, in the period 2011-2, with unfair dismissal being the most common issue cited in cases.
Originally launched in 2009, the PCC is expected to be central to the Government’s plans to reduce employment tribunals by ensuring that anyone looking to make a claim is sent through the service as standard. Such plans are expected to be introduced from 2014.
This rise in numbers therefore should be viewed positively. Indeed, there are strong signs that the increase in cases has come about as a result of greater awareness of the service – particularly among those wanting to resolve their disputes without heading into the tribunal process.
The ACAS service can also be specifically helpful when used as an alternative to compromise agreements, especially when there are a number of employees that are affected by a single issue in the workplace - assuming that ACAS have sufficient resource to be able to deal with the increased demand for its service.
Through this service, a single ACAS officer can provide advice and support to employers and employees, usually within the workplace and in a manner which prevents employees from having to go out and seek different legal representation.
Not only does the ACAS route provide an effective solution to disputes involving more than one employee, as mentioned above, the Government hopes that its plan for all tribunal claims to go through ACAS will impact on the mindset of many who choose to bring claims.
It is anticipated that it will focus minds at an early stage on whether there is scope to settle and should hopefully sift out claims and only those unsuitable for settlement at an early stage will then proceed through the tribunal process.
This could in turn cut the number of claims which end up before the tribunal.
Although the use if ACAS for employment disputes is not expected to become compulsory for another 12 month, it’s clear that businesses are already engaged with the service. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see another increase during the next 12 months.
* Fergal Dowling is employment partner at Irwin Mitchell