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Employment tribunal claims must be lodged with Acas, Cable says

27 January 2011

Business secretary Vince Cable launched plans this morning to cut the number of employment tribunal claims by requiring all of them to be lodged with Acas.

Under the proposals Acas would have a duty, rather than a power, to provide pre-claim conciliation. Employment judges would be allowed to sit alone and ‘legal officers’ employed to help them with case management.

Measures outlined by Cable and already leaked to the press include an increase in the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two and introducing fees for tribunal hearings (see solicitorsjournal.com, 10 January 2011).

James Davies, joint head of employment at Lewis Silkin, said the idea of sending all claims to Acas made sense, but would be “bonkers” without proper funding.

“How are they going to be able to do it without more resources?” he asked. “Acas is already overstretched. You have to fund it properly, otherwise claims will disappear into a black hole.”

Davies said he was not against employment judges being allowed to sit alone, as long as it did not result in a “gradual erosion in the use of lay individuals until they disappear into the ether”.

Davies said the “big question” was over the introduction of fees and how much they would be.

Paul McGowan, principal of Collingwood Legal in Corbridge, said that whether or not Acas had a power or a duty to be involved, it was up to the parties to find a resolution of the case.

“Many of the changes to employment law in the last 15 years have come from Europe and the UK government is obliged to reflect them.”

Launching the consultation today, the business secretary said tribunal claims rose to 256,000 last year, an increase of 56 per cent on 2009.

He said resolving disputes earlier was in the interests of workers.

“No one wants to spend month after month worrying about a claim – we need to make what can be an extremely stressful time in people’s lives as short as possible.”

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