We offer free conciliation services to help parties involved in a workplace dispute to come to a legally binding resolution, without needing to go through a public tribunal. We offer both individual conciliation and collective conciliation, for example where an issue affects a number of employees.
Anyone wishing to lodge a claim with the Office of the Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (OITFET) must contact the Labour Relations Agency first and consider our offer of Early Conciliation. It is only compulsory to consider the offer; parties do not have to accept it. Employers, or their representatives, can also request Early Conciliation where there is a dispute in the workplace that they think might result in a claim being taken to tribunal. However, a claim can still be pursued through the Tribunal if Early Conciliation has not been successful, or if either party does not accept the offer to try it. Conciliation with the LRA will still be available to the parties, should they wish to try it again, whilst they wait for their tribunal case to be heard.
To find out more or to make your Early Conciliation notification to us, visit our 'Early Conciliation' page.
Conciliation following lodgement of a tribunal claim to OITFET
If someone has lodged a claim to the Tribunal about their employment rights a copy is sent by the Office of the Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal, to the Labour Relations Agency. We have a legal duty to offer conciliation in most cases. You will receive an email from us confirming receipt of your claim and inviting you or your representative to contact us if you wish to engage in conciliation. The role of the Conciliation Officer is to help find a solution that both sides find acceptable instead of going to a tribunal hearing. They don’t impose solutions, but will try to help you settle your differences on your own terms.
Key features of Conciliation
Conciliation Officers are impartial. They do not:
•Represent either the employer or the employee.
•Take sides or judge who is right or wrong.
•Give an explicit opinion on the merits of a claim.
•Advise on tactics, or how to win at a tribunal.
•Pressurise people to settle or abandon a case.
Conciliation is voluntary.
•You only take part if you want to and you can stop at any time.
•The Conciliation Officer has no power to compel anyone to take any course of action.
Conciliation is confidential.
•Information will not be passed to other parties without your agreement.
•What you say during conciliation cannot be used as evidence against you at a tribunal hearing.
Conciliation is independent.
•It is entirely separate from the tribunal service and if a settlement is not reached, a claim can still be pursued.
•It does not delay the tribunal process. In effect conciliation will run in parallel to the tribunal processes
Conciliation is free.
•There is no charge for our service.
What are the options?
If someone has lodged a claim to the Tribunal about their employment rights, there are a number of possible options:
Settle the claim through the Labour Relations Agency – we conciliate in most claims about individual employment rights, and the majority are settled (or withdrawn).
Settle the claim privately – you can settle the claim privately in certain circumstances but a private settlement reached without the assistance of an appropriate advisor may not be legally binding. If you want to explore this option we have listed some sources of advice from one of the sources listed below.
Withdraw the claim – if someone has made a claim to the tribunal but no longer wants to continue with it, they should withdraw it. The Labour Relations Agency can facilitate your withdrawal and this should be done without delay, as the tribunal may award costs if they think someone has acted unreasonably
Have the claim decided by an arbitrator – as an alternative to a tribunal, the claim can be heard by an independent arbitrator under the Labour Relations Agency Arbitration Scheme. The Scheme is a quick, non-legalistic, less formal and more cost effective alternative to a tribunal hearing. Arbitrators have the authority to make legally binding awards in the same way as a tribunal. For more details ask your Conciliation Officer or refer to our booklet on the Arbitration Scheme.
Have the claim decided by a tribunal – you can access the booklet explaining tribunal procedures from the Office of the Industrial Tribunal and the Fair Employment Tribunal via the following link
Why choose Conciliation?
•Saves time and money. Preparing or responding to a tribunal claim takes a great deal of time, and if there is a tribunal hearing both employer and employee could have costs for someone to represent them.
•Minimises stress. Almost everyone finds the process of pursuing or defending a case difficult, and appearing in tribunal can be a stressful experience.
•Quick Solution. Many cases can be dealt with in a few telephone calls or a short meeting, with agreed settlements implemented very soon afterwards.
•Win-Win Outcome. In a tribunal someone always loses and even the ‘winner’ will not always get what he or she wants from the process.
•Control. Settlements are reached by agreement on terms that suit the parties. In the tribunal the decision is taken out of the parties’ hands and there are restrictions on what the tribunal can award (e.g. they cannot order references to be given).
•Avoids Formality. Although the tribunal is less formal and legalistic than most courts it is still a judicial process with which most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
What will the Conciliation Officer do?
In order to help you reach a settlement, the Conciliation Officer will talk through the issues with both sides to see if a solution can be found. This is normally done by telephone with each party separately. The Conciliation Officer will also:
•Explain the conciliation process.
•Explain the way tribunals operate, and what they are likely to take into account in deciding the case.
•Help establish the facts at issue and discuss the options open to you, including arbitration where appropriate.
•Help you to understand how the other side views the case, and explore with you how it might be resolved without a tribunal hearing.
•In cases of dismissal, explore the possibility of re-employment.
•Discuss any proposals for settlement put forward by either side.
The Conciliation Officer will not:
•Make a judgement on the case, or the likely outcome of a tribunal hearing.
•Advise you whether or not to accept any proposals for settlement.
•Act as your representative, take sides, or help you prepare your case.
What happens if I settle the claim through the Labour Relations Agency?
If you settle the claim through the Labour Relations Agency, the agreement will be legally binding. Although agreements do not have to be in writing to be legally binding, the terms of the agreement will be recorded on a Labour Relations Agency form to be signed by both sides as proof of the agreement. The tribunal will be notified by the Conciliation Officer that a settlement has been agreed and the case will be dismissed by the tribunal
What happens if agreement cannot be reached?
If you cannot reach agreement on a tribunal claim, and the claim is not withdrawn, it will be decided by a tribunal. Parties may also agree to have the complaint heard by an arbitrator as an alternative to a tribunal hearing. Both parties have to agree to this option. For more details on this service click on this link. You may also find it useful to speak to your conciliation officer who can explain how the arbitration process works.
What if I have a representative?
If you appoint a representative to act for you, we will conciliate through them, and will not be able to deal with you directly. As any settlement reached through your representative would be legally binding, it is important to ensure that they are fully aware of your requirements.
Will talking to the Labour Relations Agency affect the tribunal process?
No. It is important to comply with all instructions from the tribunal as they will continue to process the case while conciliation is taking place, and will list the case for a hearing unless they hear it has been settled or withdrawn. Conciliation is completely separate from the tribunal process.
Where can I get more advice?
• If you are unsure what to do about your dispute, call our Workplace Information Service. This service is available to all NI employers, employees, trade unions and others for employment relations 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 identify possible options to help resolve their issues.
Telephone 03300 555300.
•The Equality Commission can give free help and advice on matters relating to equal pay and all aspects of discrimination.
Telephone 028 9050 0600.
•Trade Unions and employers’ associations may be able to advise and support their members.
•Advice Centres, Solicitors, Law Centres/Clinic and some specialist consultants can provide advice and representation on all matters concerned with employment rights and potential claims.
- 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
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.