Draft employment Bill gets the thumbs-down

Government proposals to simplify employment dispute procedures could lead to greater complexity and lack of uniformity, employment lawyers have warned.

They are preparing to respond to a draft Bill on dispute resolution, published for consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry in July.

The main aims of the Bill are to encourage use of voluntary alternatives to industrial hearings and to streamline industrial tribunal procedures.

One of the major changes proposed is the creation of an arbitration scheme for unfair dismissal as an alternative to industrial tribunals. Lawyers fear this system might lead to inconsistency.

Other changes include renaming the tribunals as Employment Tribunals and giving them power, in certain circumstances, to decide cases on the basis of written evidence or without full hearings.

Jane Mann, a partner at Fox Williams and secretary of the Employment Lawyers Association, said there was uncertainty over how changes would work in practice, particularly for arbitration.

Michael Hibbs, an employment lawyer at Birmingham firm Shakespeares, said he feared the proposed system, which has complex preliminary procedures, risked polarising the parties involved rather than bringing them together.

He said: “It is still open to question whether the number of tribunals heard will actually be reduced.”

The Employment Lawyers Association and the Law Society will be responding to the DTI by the 27 September deadline. The revised Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament next session.