Monthly Archives: August 2014

Special report: Employment – Winning the peace

This information has been provided courtesy of Hannah Gannagé-Stewart.

Employment lawyers are shifting their focus to non-contentious areas as the coalition promotes conciliation. On 6 April the latest in a raft of recent employment reforms was introduced, compelling prospective claimants to contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) before lodging proceedings at the employment tribunal.

A month into the regime, which was made compulsory on 6 May, Acas reported that around 1,000 people have contacted it about the new ‘Early Conciliation’ process every week since its launch. It is not compulsory to use Acas, only to make it the first port of call. But according to the service’s report 98 per cent of those who have got in touch have opted to try early conciliation.
The moves are all part of a drive to encourage early settlement of claims and come partly in the wake of venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft’s highly controversial report on employment law in May 2012. Other changes include the introduction of employment tribunal fees, extending the period of time in which employees can bring a claim of unfair dismissal from one to two years and a reduction in the consultation period from 90 to 45 days.

For the full report please visit:

Special thanks to Hannah Gannagé-Stewart.

The changing face of Employment Relations

This information has been provided courtesy of Rachel Pinto, Senior Research Officer at Acas.

Harold Wilson famously said that ‘he who rejects change is the architect of decay.’ Strong words in favour of change being progressive, dynamic and forward looking. But change can also be daunting and its effects widespread. This was a clear theme emerging from the Acas Wales Conference.
Framed as ‘The changing face of Employment Relations’ the conference set out a number of changes sweeping across the world of work. And looking round the audience of employment law specialists, employers, and operational staff, it was clear that the changes were being felt by all.

Anne Sharp, Chief Executive at Acas opened the conference, describing how the modern workplace is evolving. So what has changed?
The recession has played a huge role in shaping people’s experience of work. Latest findings from the Workplace Employee Relations Study show that almost fifty per cent of workplaces report that the downturn has had an effect on their workplace. But there are also other notable changes taking hold. Anne explained that people are working for longer, with older women in particular working past retirement. But conversely young people are struggling to find work and have little exposure to the workplace. The UK Commission’s Employer Perspectives Survey corroborates this, showing that only a quarter of employers take on a young person for work experience placements.
Along with changes amongst the working population, there are also changing work patterns; with a growing tendency for part-time working and zero-hour contracts. Where work is subcontracted, employees may find themselves working alongside others with different terms and conditions, and the boundaries around line management become blurred. These situations clearly bring new challenges to employment relations, as individuals seek clarity over their changing work environment. But for employers there is a strong need to adapt to a more transient and dispersed workforce.

The conference also highlighted that conflicts at work are being handled and resolved differently. Fees have been introduced for employment tribunals, placing even more emphasis on the importance of resolving conflict sooner rather than later, and later this year Acas will launch its new early conciliation service. Describing the service, where all potential employment tribunal claims will have to go to Acas first, Gareth Perry, Director of Acas Wales noted that ‘early intervention is crucial before people become entrenched in their views.’
This was a view echoed by those at the conference heavily involved in workplace mediation. This process involves an impartial mediator helping the affected parties to work through their issues, and establish some common ground. The success rate for mediation is good – with seven in ten resulting in resolution – but its real strength is in the way it helps to maintain working relationships.

For the full report please visit:

Special thanks to Rachel Pinto, Senior Research Officer at Acas.

Zero-hours contracts breed mistrust

This information has been provided courtesy of IBB Solicitors.

A new study has claimed that employees on zero-hours contracts are too afraid to search for a new job and feel excluded from the sense of security other full-time workers enjoy. The conciliation service Acas, which compiled the report, said it was receiving about 70 calls a week about zero-hours contracts, with a feeling of ‘effective exclusivity’ of being tied to one employer emerging as a major concern. Sir Brendan Barber, chair of Acas, said: ‘Our analysis reveals that many workers on zero-hours contracts experience a deep sense of unfairness and mistrust that go beyond the use of exclusivity clauses. A lot of workers on zero-hours contracts are afraid of looking for work elsewhere, turning down hours or questioning their employment rights in case their work is withdrawn or reduced.’

Barber added that the deep-rooted exclusivity can be very damaging to trust and to employer relationship. There also appeared to be a lack of transparency on contractual arrangements. He said: ‘Many people did not seem to even know that they were on a zero-hours contract and some believed they were on a permanent contract due to the length of their service.’ Acas has recommended new guidance on zero-hours contracts so that both employees and employers are very clear on the working arrangements they are agreeing to, in response to the government’s consultation into employee agreements in March 2014.

For the full report please visit:

Special thanks to IBB Solicitors.

Consultation at work – time to clarify the meaning and purpose

This information has been provided courtesy of Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas.

There has been an explosion in employee involvement in Britain, but it’s in the language used to describe it, rather than the incidence. Terminology is beginning to sprawl: engagement, consultation, communication, direct and indirect involvement, representation, voice and more. But if the meaning of different forms of involvement become conflated, is there a danger that we may take our eye off its real purpose?
Take consultation at work: a method for allowing employees to have their say and contribute to decisions. It’s a statutory requirement in some aspects of health and safety, and redundancy, but what about consultation on other workplace and bigger business questions?

Evidence indicates that effective consultation can pay dividends in how people feel about their jobs and their workplace, but also that consultation provides opportunities for innovation and better quality of decisions making. More managers are also saying that they consult their staff: according the latest Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS), four out of five (80%) managers said they wouldn’t introduce change at work without consulting employees first, an increase from 72 per cent in the 2004 study.

However, two new Acas-commissioned reports on worker representation and joint consultative committees have dug deeper, looking at the structures and nature of consultation. For those who believe that consultation is an important ingredient in productive workplaces, there are some findings that make for uncomfortable reading.
First, the proportion of workplaces where managers and employee representatives (union and /or non union) meet together in joint consultative committees (JCCs) has remained stable at 8%. But there has been a fall in the proportion of workplaces where there are JCCs at a higher-level in the organisation, where arguably some of the more strategic decisions are being made (from 29% in 2004 to 20% in 2011). Legislation may not have made a difference. Overall, the report concludes that, in spite of the legal framework introduced in 2004 to support employee consultation (the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations) there has been no great shift in the volume of organisations with consultative arrangements. The exception was in medium sized workplaces with 100 to 150 employees where the incidence rose from 9 per cent to 20 per cent.

Next, what about the quality of the consultation? When we are asked our opinions, we like to think that we have a chance to influence the outcome. It may be that the final decision doesn’t go our way, but if the process is clear, we can start to understand why.
The proportions of managers saying their normal practice was to use committees at work to seek solutions to problems was consistent and moderately widespread with 40 per cent mainly using this approach when consulting committee members. This sounds like good news, and the figure hasn’t changed since 2004. But there were also signs of consultation processes narrowing. The proportion of managers who said they mainly use committees to seek feedback on a range of options had fallen, from 45 to 39 per cent, while those saying they seek feedback on a preferred management option had risen from 9 per cent to 28 per cent. Worker representatives also reported a decline in so-called ‘options based consultation’

For the full report please visit:

Special thanks to Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas.