With a national skills shortage in many industries continuing to pose problems for employers, companies are becoming more sophisticated about keeping existing employees happy.
Rather than lose valuable workers to internal disputes - including personality clashes and pay issues - some are turning to external mediators to resolve conflicts.
Daryl Phillips, general manager at The Resolution Centre, says disputes are typically resolved in one to 10 days, using the expertise of professionals with backgrounds as diverse as law, psychology, counselling and education.
Dispute resolution costs between $2500 and $5000; it's an expensive exercise, but Phillips says it can cost a company 10 times that amount should an unresolved conflict lead to litigation, lost time spent attending court hearings and/or the cost of hiring and training new staff. An arbitration tribunal has a win-lose outcome, which often can lead to resentment. Mediation, on the other hand, is voluntary and both parties agree to take part. "The mediator is there to facilitate and get the result everyone is looking for," Phillips says.
The NSW director of the Australian Industry Group, Mark Goodsell, says when mediation works well, "both parties genuinely accept the outcome".
To be effective, says University of Sydney law professor Ron McCallum, mediators must be independent of the organisation requesting their advice, and have accreditation with an administrative body such as Lawyers Engaged with Alternative Dispute Resolution or the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia.
The latter's chief executive, Gordon Tippett, says he is anticipating an increase in demand for private mediators despite the process not being widely publicised.
With new workplace laws reducing the role of unions and industrial tribunals in agreement making, the Federal Government is encouraging employees and employers to pursue alternatives to lodging complaints with the Industrial Relations Commission.
In April, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, launched a $10.4 million alternative dispute resolution assistance scheme that allows eligible parties to receive up to $1500 towards the cost of private dispute resolution services.
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