Archive for the ‘Mediation’ Category

The case for mediation

05th January 2011

imagesMay. Britain. Excited Tories. The ink was barely dry on the coalition agreement and the UK business lobby was already pushing for relaxation of employment laws. The mercifully short-lived rejuvenation of Thatcher’s favourite privatiser, David Young, brought with it public musing over the relaxation of Health & Safety laws and the extension of the qualification period for unfair dismissal rights. Cameron’s call for ‘cutting red tape for small businesses’ was middle-England code for ‘let’s put the children back up the chimneys’ and you could almost hear the hand-rubbing from the forces of darkness that are UK business groups. Like every other slash, cut and tax imposed in the name of recovery from crisis, the coalition seemed set to use economic necessity as the stalking horse for reducing government and regulation everywhere they find it. Fortunately, the rusty Lord committed political suicide in The Telegraph by mistaking their readers for the majority of the population and telling us all that we’d never had it so good. Things went quiet for a bit. I’m guessing they will get noisier ‘though, and not only over the daft arguments put forward over the delay to scrapping the DRA.

The CIPD’s John Philpott thinks changes in employment law will be forced on the agenda because the pace of private sector job-creation will not be as fast as required. He may be right. I think there are also some political debts to be paid to heartland Tories and nothing plays better there than standing up for the rights of green-grocers, iron-mongers and huge public-sector outsourcers to exploit their staff. The fact that Lord Heseltine, another Thatcher era thowback (albeit one who ‘had to buy his own furniture’) chose to tell The Times that changes to Employment Law are not necessary is only evidence that there is a debate in government. The coalition are discussing their continuing legislation programme and it wouldn’t surprise me to see changes in the employment legal landscape as tortured Vince plays a lame-duck Hamlet over at the Business Secretary’s desk to Clegg’s Queen Gertrude.

The surprising twist here is that I think that there is scope for change. It’s not in the law but in the application of it and a third Maggie dinosaur, Ken Clarke, has it in his grasp. In running the Ministry of Justice he presides over an Employment Tribunal Service which saw 236,000 claims in 2009-2010 (up from 86,000 in 2004-2005) and which has a current waiting list of around 350,000 cases. I am not alone in describing this service as ‘broken’ as yesterday’s debate on Radio 4’s Today programme demonstrated. It serves the interests of neither party and it costs the state loads. The Ministry of Justice’s business plan requires it to publish proposals for the promotion of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, by March 2011 and when the average cost of an employment mediation runs at around £2,000 and the average cost of defending a tribunal claim is £8,500 it would be madness for employers not to actively engage in mediation – a decision which could have saved the BBC more than £150,000 in 2010, it would appear.

This could just be a case where the coalition’s radicalism and cutting agenda could be brought to bear to a common good. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?