Early conciliation for employment tribunals to be introduced on January 27

Early conciliation in employment disputes will be introduced from January 27
Ryan McAleer

THE process for resolving workplace problems in the north is set to change at the end of January.

Early conciliation in employment disputes will be introduced from January 27. It follows changes to employment law here.

It means that anyone intending on lodging a claim with the north's industrial or fair employment tribunal, must first notify the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) to discuss the option of early conciliation.

The LRA says potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering the option.

It marks a significant change from the current situation, where claims can be lodged with the tribunal, The LRA then has a duty to make contact with the parties to offer conciliation.

It's aimed at resolving workplace issues without the need for a tribunal.

Conciliation is a voluntary process, requiring both parties to agree to take part in order to find a solution.

Tribunal claims usually have to be presented within three or six months of the alleged incident or behaviour, depending on the type of claim.

However, the LRA says that when an individual makes an early conciliation notification, the clock will stop for a period up to one calendar month, during which conciliation can take place.

The conciliation officer will also have the power to extend for a further 14 days providing there is a reasonable prospect of an agreement and that both parties agree.

“Early Conciliation is about more than just a change in process,” said LRA chief executive Tom Evans.

“It represents a valuable opportunity to bring cultural change in how workplace disputes are resolved in Northern Ireland.

“We know that early engagement is the most effective way to resolve workplace problems, before parties become embroiled in an often bitter, legal confrontation. All too often that approach destroys any hope of repairing the working relationship and can leave employers and employees alike significantly out of pocket.”

Last year the LRA dealt with 4,500 employment rights cases, with just eight per cent proceeding to tribunal.

Mr Evans said the early conciliation process can provide more privacy, cut fees and speed up a settlement.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “While potential claimants will have to contact the LRA, and are likely to benefit from engaging in conciliation, they will not be compelled to take up the offer. If a settlement isn't possible or conciliation is rejected, the claimant can then proceed to lodge a tribunal claim, if they so wish.

“I would encourage businesses and employees to familiarise themselves with this new measure and contact the LRA should they have any queries.”

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