We offer a free conciliation service 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 NI employment law means that anyone wishing to lodge a claim with the Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal will need to contact us 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.
In the past, if a claim was submitted to the Industrial Tribunal the Labour Relations Agency received notification and we had a legal responsibility to offer to conciliate. Our Conciliation Officers would contact the parties, or their representatives, and our role was to help them to find a solution that both could accept, instead of going ahead with a tribunal hearing.
However, from 27 January 2020, a change in NI employment law now means that anyone wishing to lodge a claim with the Tribunal 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.
We conciliate in most claims about individual employment rights in Northern Ireland and the majority are settled. Agreed resolutions (settlements), reached through conciliation by the Labour Relations Agency, are legally binding.
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.
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.
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
Pre-Claim Conciliation services
Before the law changed in NI to introduce Early Conciliation on 27 January 2020, we provided a 'Pre-Claim Conciliation' service when problems in the workplace had not yet, but could result in a tribunal claim being submitted. We offered conciliation to the parties involved to help reach a resolution before any claim was submitted.
As the purpose of Early Conciliation is to help resolve disputes before a tribunal claim is submitted, it will now be the service available to parties.
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.