By Maximilian Clarke

The latest steps in reforms to the employment tribunal system were unveiled by Employment Relations Minister Edward Davey today with the announcement of a pilot scheme for two regional mediation networks for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Cambridge and Manchester will be the first regional mediation networks where the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will fund mediation training for employees from a group of 24 businesses in each of the pilot areas later this year.

A network of trained mediators will be available to provide mediation to other organisations in their respective network. It is anticipated that this will help resolve workplace disputes, at the earliest possible opportunity, before they reach the employment tribunal stage.

“We have always said that employment tribunals should be a last resort for resolving workplace disputes,” said Davey. “That is why last year we announced a series of measures which offer alternatives when dealing with such problems.

“Mediation offers an informal method of dispute resolution and can be used at the point when problems first arise in the workplace. For both employers and employees it can mean avoiding the need for formal discipline and grievance procedures. And it can also mean avoiding the time-consuming, complex and often stressful employment tribunal process.

“We want to help employers and employees to help themselves. In particular our consultations showed SMEs are often not aware of the benefits that mediation can bring for both parties. This pilot will directly target this group, help to raise awareness of the benefits and reduce the burden on the tribunal system.”

The intention to pilot two regional mediation networks was published in the Government response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation. The pilots will run for 12 months and, if successful, the Government will consider introducing them into other areas of England, Scotland and Wales.

An open tender to deliver the mediation training for prospective candidates has been published today and can be found on the ‘Contracts Finder’ website.

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