Key points

  • The Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service (referred to below as 'ACAS' or 'the Service') is an independent statutory body, first established on 1 January 1976 under section 1 of the (since repealed) Employment Protection Act 1975 and continued by section 247 of the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.


    Note

    ACAS performs its functions (and those of its officers and servants) on behalf of the Crown, 'but not so as to make it subject to directions of any kind from any Minister of the Crown as to the manner in which it is to exercise its functions under any enactment' (ibid. section 247(3)).

Constitution of ACAS

  • ACAS is directed by a Council which consists of a Chairman and nine ordinary members appointed by the Secretary of State for Employment. Following consultations with the bodies concerned, three of the ordinary members are appointed from organisations representing employers and three from organisations representing workers. If he thinks fit, the Secretary of State may appoint a further two ordinary members (one representing employers; the other, workers). He may also appoint up to three Deputy Chairmen, either from the existing ordinary members or in addition to those members. The Council's Chairman, Deputy Chairmen and ordinary members may be either full-time or part-time and hold office for a maximum of five years. However, previous membership does not affect a person's eligibility for reappointment. With the consent of the Secretary of State as to their numbers, manner of appointment and terms and conditions of service, the Council may appoint a Secretary and such other officers and staff as it may determine (ibid. section 251).

Conciliation officers

  • 'ACAS shall designate some of its officers to perform the functions of conciliation officers under any enactment (whenever passed) relating to matters that are or could be the subject of proceedings before an employment tribunal' and 'references in any such enactment to a conciliation officer are to an officer designated under this section' (ibid. section 211). For further details, please turn to the section in this handbook titled Conciliation officers.

Issue of codes of practice

  • ACAS may issue codes of practice containing such practical guidance as it thinks fit for the purpose of promoting the improvement of industrial relations (ibid. section 199). For further particulars, please turn to the section titled Codes of practice.

Functions of ACAS

  • Under section 209 of the 1992 Act (as amended by the Employment Rights (Dispute Resolution) Act 1998), the general duty of ACAS is to promote the improvement of industrial relations. No longer does it have a particular duty to concentrate on the settlement of trade disputes. Its role in dispute prevention is likely to assume equal, if not greater, importance.

Advice

  • ACAS may, either of its own initiative or at the request of employers, employers' associations, workers and trade unions, give such advice as it thinks appropriate on matters concerned with or affecting (or likely to affect) industrial relations. The Service may also publish general advice on industrial relations matters (ibid. section 213).

Conciliation

  • ACAS may, either at the request of one or other of the parties (and with the consent of both) or of its own initiative, help (or offer to help) settle a trade dispute by conciliation - either by one of its own officers or by some other person nominated by the Service. Before intervening, ACAS will first encourage the parties to use their own agreed procedures (if any) for negotiation or the settlement of disputes (ibid. section 210). See also Trade disputes and arbitration elsewhere in this handbook.

Arbitration

  • If a trade dispute is unlikely to be settled by conciliation and existing disputes procedures have been used and failed, ACAS may, at the request of one or more of the parties to the dispute (but only with the consent of all of the parties), refer that dispute to arbitration - either by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) or by one or more arbitrators appointed by the Service for that purpose. If two or more arbitrators (or arbiters) are appointed, ACAS will appoint one of them to act as chairman. If a trade dispute is settled by arbitration, ACAS may (with the consent of all the parties) publish details of the award (ibid. section 212). See also the sections titled Central Arbitration Committee and Trade disputes and arbitration elsewhere in this handbook.

ACAS arbitration scheme

  • Under the so-called 'ACAS Arbitration Scheme', independent arbitrators (appointed by ACAS) are empowered to adjudicate on disputes between employers and employees about the fairness or otherwise of an employee's dismissal. The aim of the Scheme is to promote the settlement of unfair dismissal disputes in a confidential, informal, relatively fast and cost-efficient way. Unlike the handling of such complaints before the employment tribunals, the new arbitration scheme avoids the use of formal pleadings, witnesses and documentary procedures. The usual rules of evidence do not apply nor is strict law or legal precedent a determining factor. Instead, in reaching their decisions, the arbitrators will take into account the general principles of fairness and good conduct laid down in ACAS Code of Practice 1 on Disciplinary & Grievance Procedures and in related ACAS publications, notably its Discipline at Work Handbook. Arbitral decisions (or awards) will be final, with very limited opportunities for the parties to appeal or otherwise challenge the outcome.


    Note

    Information and guidance on the ACAS Arbitration Scheme can be obtained, free of charge, from ACAS Reader Limited on 0870 242 9090 or may be accessed and downloaded from website www.acas.org.uk/arbitration.htm.

Inquiry

  • Where appropriate, ACAS may inquire into any question relating to industrial relations generally or to industrial relations in any particular industry, undertaking or part of an undertaking. The Service may publish a report of its findings following any such inquiry if it considers that publication is desirable for the improvement of industrial relations, either generally or in relation to the specific question inquired into. But it will not publish its report without first sending a draft to the parties concerned and taking account of their views.

Fees

  • Under section 251A of the 1992 Act, ACAS may charge a fee for its services - but only in a case where it considers it appropriate to do so. Furthermore, it may charge a fee whether or not an employer or trade union (or individual) has asked for or invited its services. For some services, the Secretary of State may direct ACAS to charge a fee - either at the full economic cost of the service in question or at a specified proportion or percentage of that cost. However, ACAS may not charge a fee for its services unless it first forewarns a 'client' employer, trade union or individual that a fee will (or may) be levied. If the 'client' is not forewarned, there is no liability to pay.

Future developments

  • In the Explanatory Notes to the Employment Act 2002, the Government acknowledges that an ACAS-brokered settlement of a dispute between an employer and one or more of his employees is often reached at the very last moment before the case comes before an employment tribunal. Delayed settlements, says the Notes, are costly in terms of the time, money and other resources, not only to the parties in dispute but also to ACAS and the Employment Tribunals Service. Regulations to be made under section 24 of the 2002 Act (on a date yet to be specified) will amend section 7 of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 to allow for the postponement of the fixing of a time and place for a hearing in order for the proceedings to be settled through conciliation. The regulations will set out the length of the conciliation period and will provide for its extension where the conciliator considers that settlement within a short additional timeframe is very likely. Section 24 of the 2002 Act further provides that ACAS's duty to conciliate cases will revert to a power to conciliate after the compulsory conciliation period has ended. The effect will be that, once the conciliation period is over, the conciliation officer will be able to judge whether to continue to conciliate the case or to pass it back to the Employmrent Tribunals Service so that a time and place can be fixed for a hearing.

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