Employees vs employers as UK battles recession

As UK companies feel the economic squeeze, workplace tensions have apparently been on the rise.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

That’s certainly the impression you get reading the annual report of Acas, the workplace arbitration service that has a better view than most of the human impact of the recession. Acas says there’s been a sizeable increase in the number of conciliation cases, unfair dismissal claims and redundancy disputes – the unfortunate effect of a year in which companies in every sector have been frantically downsizing…

Over 78,000 conciliation cases were referred to Acas by the Employment Tribunal Service last year, 18% up on the previous year. It also dealt with 55,000 unfair dismissal cases, a 22% increase. Not surprisingly, Acas has also spent much of its time dealing with redundancy concerns. Its dedicated helpline has been getting twice as many calls as it did the previous year – in fact it’s been so busy that it’s started extending its hours to cover evening and Saturday mornings (although since calling out of work-hours would seem pretty sensible for those worried about the looming threat of redundancy, we don’t think this is too much to ask). Redundancy services have been one of the few growth industries this year.

Although many of the companies concerned will argue that they were forced into cuts, increases like these are bad news: regardless of the rights and wrongs of individual decisions, the last thing companies will have wanted to be doing this year was spending valuable time in tribunals and arbitration. If it gets that far, it’s a good indication that the process wasn’t handled as well as it could have been. On the other hand, the positive angle is that more arbitrations presumably means fewer court battles – it has to be easier (and cheaper) for all concerned if disputes are settled through non-binding arbitration, as opposed to through the courts.

It’s clearly been a tough year for all concerned – employees are worried about their jobs, while employers are worried about the very future of their company. That creates tension on both sides –and with the jobless count expected to rise for the next two years, this is unlikely to dissipate for some time.

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