Firms welcome new Acas scheme

Alternative to employment tribunals gets the thumbs-up as government announces spring launch

Nearly half the employers who took part in a recent study say they are likely to use a new Acas service designed as an alternative to employment tribunals.

The scheme — the Acas individual arbitration service — aims to provide another option to parties in unfair dismissal cases. According to the government, the new initiative will be ‘more informal, private, quicker and cheaper’.

Of 62 employers questioned by employment analyst IRS, 28 said they were likely to use the scheme, with only seven saying they would be unlikely to do so.

The remainder said a decision had not been made, because they knew little about how the scheme would work in practice.

According to IRS, its research suggests the alternative procedure — due to be operational by the spring — is likely to establish itself quickly.

It said: ‘Early signs indicate that many employers will welcome the new scheme with open arms. Many of the employers expressing enthusiasm say this is because they anticipate the new scheme will live up to its billing and prove cheaper and quicker.

‘Ironically, this carries more than an echo of the very purposes for which the industrial tribunals were originally established.’

Among organisations in favour of the scheme, the main advantage identified is the opportunity to reach a quicker and hence less expensive settlement.

As one said: ‘as a good employer, we should know when we have made a procedural error.

‘opening a dialogue with the employee may help to settle a dispute in a less confrontational way, and assist longer–term employee relations.’

Of those describing themselves as unlikely to use the service, reasons ranged from the absence of a proven track record to total lack of confidence. One company even stated it did not trust that the scheme had been ‘set up properly’.

Another said it would be deterred from using the service by the lack of a right of appeal. It added that it also preferred to have cases considered by more than one person — as in employment tribunals — as this resulted in a more balanced decision.

The scheme follows government proposals, also due to be introduced by the spring, to curb the number of spurious claims being taken to tribunals.

Employers say they pay out thousands preparing for cases later thrown out as groundless.

Planned reforms include an increase from £500–£10,000 in the cost penalties that can be awarded against an employee for unreasonable behaviour.