We offer conciliation services to help parties involved in a workplace dispute to come to a legally binding resolution without needing to go through a tribunal. We offer both individual conciliation and collective conciliation, for example where an issue affects a number of employees.
From 27 January 2020 a change in legislation means that anyone wishing to lodge a claim with the Industrial or Fair Employment tribunal will need to contact the Labour Relations Agency first to discuss the option of 'Early Conciliation'. If agreement is not reached through Early Conciliation parties can still proceed to tribunal if they wish.
Pre-Claim Conciliation services
Good discipline and grievance procedures can help organisations to sort out problems internally and avoid industrial tribunal claims. However, unresolved issues can require some additional support. Where a problem or disagreement in the workplace is likely to lead to a tribunal claim the Labour Relations Agency will often be able to help employers and employees find a solution that is acceptable to both. This service is known as Pre-Claim Conciliation and like the Agency’s other services it is free to use. It can save the time, stress and expense normally associated with a tribunal claim. It can also help avoid the lasting damage to relationships that can happen during a tribunal.
The Labour Relations Agency's new 'Early Conciliation' service, which begins on 27 January 2020, will replace Pre-Claim Conciliation.
Currently, if a claim is submitted to the industrial tribunal the Labour Relations Agency receives notification and we then have a legal responsibility to offer to conciliate. Our Conciliation Officers contact the parties, or their representatives, and our role is to help find a solution that both sides find acceptable, instead of going to a tribunal hearing.
However, from 27 January 2020, a change in legislation means that anyone wishing to lodge a claim with the tribunal must first contact the Labour Relations Agency and consider our offer of 'Early Conciliation'. It is only compulsory to consider the offer, parties do not have to accept it.
The first step will be to fill in a short Early Conciliation notification form (a direct link to the form will be available on this page once it goes live on 27 January 2020). One of our Conciliation Officers will then make contact to explain how Early Conciliation works. With the consent of both parties the Conciliation Officer will try to help them come to an agreement as to how to resolve their dispute.
We don’t impose solutions, we don’t take sides or represent either party and we can’t force anyone to take part. It’s a confidential, free of charge service and it is independent of the tribunal service. We conciliate in most claims about individual employment rights in Northern Ireland and the majority are settled or withdrawn. If the claim is settled through the Labour Relations Agency, the agreement is legally binding.
However, a claim can still be pursued through the tribunal if conciliation has not been successful. If the Early Conciliation notification form has come from the employee, there will be no impact on the time limits for lodging a claim with the tribunal (usually either 3 or 6 months from the alleged incident or behaviour, depending on the type of claim). The clock will stop temporarily to allow Early Conciliation to take place. Parties will have a calendar month during which to try conciliation. If there is no agreement the individual will be issued with an Early Conciliation certificate by the Labour Relations Agency. This certificate will have a unique reference number which will be needed for the tribunal application.
Anything said during conciliation cannot be used as evidence against you during a tribunal and parties can still come back to conciliation, if they wish, even after tribunal proceedings have been lodged.
The Early Conciliation form
- The information you give us is confidential.
- You will need your employer's name and address, which can usually be found on your payslip, contract or letter of employment.
- You may want to seek legal advice before you start, or consult your representative if you are a member of a trade union.
- We may share your name and address, and the name and address of the individual or organisation you are claiming against, with the Industrial and Fair Employment tribunal, but only with your consent. We will not share your information with anyone else.
- If you need assistance to complete the online form, click here.
Need additional help?
If you are unsure what to do about your dispute, call our Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300. This service is available to all NI employers, employees, trade unions and others for workplace-related queries. While the advisors cannot provide a legal opinion they can help callers gain a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities as well as identifying possible options to help resolve their issues.
Other organisations you may wish to contact include:
- Contact your local Community Advice office (formerly Citizens Advice). You can find details of local offices, including contact telephone numbers, by visiting https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/northern-ireland/.
- AdviceNI, the Independent Advice Network https://www.adviceni.net/advice
- The Law Centre NI https://www.lawcentreni.org/how-we-help
- NI Direct https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/employment
Collective Conciliation services
Collective Conciliation is facilitated or assisted negotiation where a Labour Relations Agency Conciliator helps employers and employees (usually through a Trade Union) to try to reach acceptable settlements in relation to a collective dispute.
The Agency's Conciliator is there to bring a neutral, independent perspective, and to encourage parties to consider if there are options that will enable them to break the deadlock. They will sometimes challenge assumptions and positions, and they may occasionally offer suggestions, however, their role is not to impose solutions. Any agreement is voluntarily entered into by the parties.
Talks held or facilitated by the Labour Relations Agency are confidential and the Agency makes no public statements to media or others about the progress or otherwise of negotiations, unless the parties jointly request or allow it.
Some of the issues that can be referred for collective conciliation include:
- Annual pay reviews;
- Other pay and terms and conditions;
- Changes in working practices;
- Discipline and dismissal (if an employee representative or group of people are involved);
- Redundancy consultation and redundancy selection; and
- Trade Union recognition.
Sometimes where disputes cannot be resolved through collective conciliation the parties agree to refer their issues to arbitration. Voluntary arbitration provides a method of settling disputes between employers and trade unions by inviting one or more impartial arbitrators to make a decision (award) which the parties have agreed in advance that they will accept.
There is no charge for using the Labour Relations Agency’s services.