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Should public services disputes go to compulsory arbitration?

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In the midst of ongoing rail stoppages, the Industrial Society is calling on the government to commission a review on the role of compulsory arbitration in disputes that hold up public services and damage the economy. The current rail strike affects one in five London commuters and is estimated to be costing £6.1 million per day.

According to the Industrial Society, compulsory arbitration would give the public interest a say, as well as the needs of management and unions. A review would examine the options and consider who could be authorised to undertake the arbitration and how it could proceed.

Will Hutton, chief executive of the society, said: “It is important to be realistic about the context for such a review. The Society does not believe there has been or is about to be a sudden explosion in industrial militancy. It is still the rare exception for employment relations to break down to the point of industrial action. Nor is there anything radically new about the way current, well publicised disputes are being handled by management or union negotiators. Our concern is at the failure to make adequate use of the arbitration option to help resolve disputes that are both protracted and highly damaging to large numbers of customers and the wider economy. The problem is exacerbated in cases where public service users are purchasing from a quasi-monopoly provider and where no realistic alternative provision exists.”

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