The draft Employment Rights (Dispute Resolution) Bill, which is published for consultation, also aims to streamline and improve industrial tribunal procedures.
One of the main changes under the draft bill would allow ACAS to fund and provide an arbitration scheme for unfair dismissal claims. This would offer parties a more informal, speedier, private and less expensive means of resolving their differences.
In answer to a written parliamentary question yesterday, Mr Lang said: 'The government is today publishing, for consultation, a draft bill on industrial tribunals and the resolution of employment rights disputes. The key thrust of the draft bill is to encourage the use of alternative ways of resolving disputes such as in-house appeals procedures, conciliation and arbitration and to streamline and improve industrial tribunals procedures enabling cases to be dealt with more speedily and efficiently.
'The consultation document includes the draft bill, explains the proposals in detail and seeks views on a number of specific questions. The publication of legislation in draft is government policy where time allows and will give all those with an interest in the proposals an opportunity to comment on legislation of direct interest to them. This will help to improve the quality of the legislation before it is introduced to parliament.'
This bill contains provisions to implement the following proposals which were outlined in the Green Paper, 'Resolving Employment Rights Disputes: Options for Reform', published in December 1994.
Improving Tribunal procedures:
-- To change the name of the tribunals to 'Employment Tribunals' to reflect their modern role (clause 1)
-- to enable tribunals to decide cases on the basis of written evidence alone where both parties consent (clause 2)
-- to give tribunals the discretion to decide cases without a full hearing where the respondent has done nothing to defend the case (clause 2)
-- to enable tribunals to determine an applicant's right to contest a case, without involving the respondent, if there is doubt about whether the case falls within the tribunals' jurisdiction (clause 2)
-- to enable tribunals to dismiss a complaint before it reaches a hearing if the case is bound to fail because of the decision of a superior court (clause 2)
-- to extend the categories of cases in which a chairman must 'sit alone' unless he or she exercises the discretion to sit as a tribunal of three (clause 3)
-- to enable tribunal chairmen to sit with one lay member where a party fails to attend and all other parties present are content (clause 4)
-- the appointment of legal officers to the industrial tribunals (clause 5)
-- jurisdiction for failure to abide by the statutory requirement for deduction from wages of political fund contributions to be transferred to industrial tribunals (clause 6)
Promoting alternative means of resolving disputes:
-- to allow parties to opt for their dispute to be resolved by independent, binding arbitration, and grant ACAS powers to pay for and provide arbitration for claims for unfair dismissal (clause 7-8)
*to extend the qualifying sources of advice in compromise agreements (clause 9)
-- to clarify the compromise agreement insurance provision (clause 10)
-- to extend the powers of conciliation officers to conciliate in statutory redundancy payment cases (clause 11)
-- to clarify, streamline and make more flexible the current legislation surrounding Dismissal Procedures Agreements (clause 12)
-- to enable tribunals determining unfair dismissal cases to take into account whether an employee or employer made use of an existing 'in-house' appeals procedure (clause 13)
Copies of the consultation document are available from the Employment Rights (Dispute Resolution) Bill Team; 2.D.52, Department of Trade and Industry; London SW1H 0ET Tel: 0171 215 2630/2631
The document also appears on the internet at http://www.dti.gov.uk.erb.