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ACAS: A Mediator, Not a Magic Bullet

by Wendy Pursey BALPA Head of Membership and Career Services

History:  When it was renamed in the 1970s, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) wasn’t totally new.  Still, a big change came in 1974 when the service was rebranded as ACAS and decoupled from direct government control with an independent council established to oversee its operation.  The Employment Protection Act of 1976 provided the last missing piece of the puzzle. By formally establishing ACAS as a statute body, this act strengthened its standing as a stand-alone organisation that fosters improved working relationships.

ACAS can be a useful tool when our union negotiations with the employer stall.  They act as a neutral third party to help us reach an agreement on behalf of our members.

  • Structured Talks: ACAS can facilitate formal meetings with the employer, ensuring a clear agenda and keeping discussions focused. This structured approach can prevent unproductive back-and-forth and emotional outbursts.
  • Conciliation: ACAS conciliators are skilled negotiators who can identify common ground and explore creative solutions. They’ll encourage compromise from both sides to bridge the gap between our demands and the employer’s offers.
  • Guidance on Procedures: ACAS advisors can clarify legal aspects of collective bargaining and ensure proper procedures are followed throughout negotiations. This helps avoid any technicalities derailing the process.

Important to Remember:

  • ACAS is not a judge or arbitrator. They can’t impose a settlement, so a strong bargaining position from union is crucial.
  • ACAS involvement is voluntary.  The employer can choose not to participate, forcing us to explore alternative dispute resolution methods or consider industrial action.

Our Role:

While ACAS offers valuable support, the onus remains on us, to secure a fair deal. We must:

  • Prepare strong arguments and evidence to back up our demands.
  • Maintain member solidarity to show the employer we’re united.
  • Be clear on what compromises (if any) we’re willing to make.

ACAS can be a helpful step towards a successful agreement, but it’s our strength and resolve that will ultimately win the day for our members.

How the process might work: – 

Information Gathering: The ACAS conciliator meets with each party (BALPA and employer) in separate rooms. This allows for frank discussions.   The conciliator gathers information about the dispute, our desired outcome and the employer’s perspective.

Bridging the Gap: The conciliator acts as a shuttle diplomat, moving between the rooms. They relay key points from each side, highlighting areas of potential agreement and identifying the major sticking points.

Creative Solutions: The conciliator uses their negotiation skills to explore creative solutions that might address both sides’ concerns. They might propose alternative options or suggest ways to phase in changes.

Keeping Momentum: The conciliator keeps the discussions moving, ensuring both parties stay focused on reaching a settlement. They might suggest taking breaks to allow for reflection and strategizing within our union team.

Reaching an Agreement (or Not):

Settlement Offer: If a compromise seems possible, the conciliator may draft a proposed agreement reflecting the areas of agreement identified during discussions. This is presented to both sides, giving us the chance to review the offer with our members.

Acceptance or Rejection: We, as a union, will decide whether to accept the proposed agreement. The employer will also have the chance to accept or reject.

Next Steps: If both parties accept, the agreement is formalised and signed. If not, ACAS might suggest further conciliation sessions, or we can explore alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration or consider industrial action. Certainly! Here’s a refined version of the text:

Remember, throughout the process, ACAS remains impartial.  Its role is to facilitate communication and help us find common ground, not to dictate the outcome. These meetings can span several days or even weeks and are often accompanied by a communication embargo to ensure that discussions remain focused and undisturbed. If this occurs, a neutral communication will be sent to our members with BALPA’s goal to always maintain dialogue and reach a satisfactory settlement for its members.