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Government announces proposals for reform of the tribunal system

28th February 2011
The Government has published a consultation document on the subject of reform of the tribunal system. The consultation document "Resolving workplace disputes" includes a number of proposals which the Government believes will maximise flexibility while protecting fairness and provide a competitve environment that will enable enterprise and growth.

There are a couple of proposals that have provoked attention. These include the increase of the minimum qualifying period of employment before being protected against unfair dismissal from one year to two years. The Government belives that such a change will enable business to "feel more confident about hiring people" and will create "more time for the relationship to get established and work well." The estimate from the Government is that this will result in between 3,700  and 4,700 fewer unfair dismissal claims per year.

The other proposal that has caught public attention is that Claimants should make a payment to commence a claim. The figure of £500 has been raised as a possible commencement fee.

Other proposals include requiring all claims to be submitted to ACAS up to a month before going to the Tribunal. The aim of this is to enable potential Claimants to have a clear understanding of issues, such as how long a case might take, and what a tribunal might award. Another proposal is that automatic financial penalites are imposed on employers that have been found to nhave broken employment rights, in addition to the ordinary compensation payable. It is proposed that this cold be as much as half the award of compensation given to the Claimant- to go to the Government! It is also proposed that employment judges be enabled to sit alone in more cases, including simpler unfair dismissal cases.

Frankly we do not think that the proposed increase of the qualifying period for protection against unfair dismissal from one year will cause a significant reduction in claims to the Tribunals. For those that have under two years service there will still be some types of unfair dismissal claims available, such as a claim of unfair dismissal arising from the assertion of certain statutory rights. It is quite likely that the number of claims that do not specifically require a qualifying period will increase.

The idea of having to pay a commencement fee will no doubt be welcomed by many employers, and employers organisations. However, other observers note that a fee of £500 would be deeply unfair, as it would be a significant deterent for genuine Claimants at just the moment that they have lost their income through losing their employment. 

It remains to be seen what changes come with this consultation process, but it does seem clear that changes will indeed come.

If you need any help or further advice on the issues raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us.            
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