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Posted: 18th May 2011

Vince CableEmployers will be encouraged by moves in the pipeline to cut the number of claims to Employment Tribunals.

Vince Cable (or “Vince Flex”, as some have said he should be renamed in light of the Government cuts) is proposing an increase in the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two and the introduction of fees for tribunal hearings.

Other suggestions include employment judges sitting alone (i.e. without lay representatives of commerce & industry) and increased references at an early stage to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, ACAS.

Employment tribunals have historically promoted easy access to justice by not requiring payment of fees to commence a claim, make applications in the proceedings or obtain a hearing date - in contrast to the county and other civil courts. With limited exceptions, there are generally no costs orders in the Employment Tribunal, unlike civil courts where more often than not the loser pays.

Naturally, employers are cheered by the prospect of speculative and unmeritorious claims being discouraged by fee requirements, as well as many simply not arising because of the doubling of the qualifying period. In the current climate, there is a need for employers to do all they can to revive the economy without fear of expensive unfair dismissal actions following a relatively short-term relationship.

The balancing concerns are that unscrupulous employers will take advantage of greater protection and the rights of individuals will be (further) eroded.

Fears have also been expressed about the ability of ACAS to cope with any increased burden and resources. The service is widely perceived to be overstretched already and likely to constitute no more than a “black hole” for volumes of claims.

Michael Williamson observed that these measures are in line with many initiatives from the Government and the Lord Chancellor’s Department to cut the cost of justice in many areas. “The trouble is that the cost and/or the ineffectiveness of what remains available means that very soon we simply shan’t have any effective dispute resolution procedure in many walks of life. Then what happens?”

“In the meantime“, Michael said, we continue to work with employers and employees wherever we can to manage and evaluate risk, and to seek effective resolution of disputes where they arise”.

Today’s blog postACAS reality test