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Govt overhauls industrial tribunals

The Gibraltar Government has announced a ‘complete overhaul’ of the industrial tribunal process to replace the current ‘antiquated’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ system.

The publication of an Amendment Bill will commence the process of reform of the Industrial Tribunal which will now be known as the Employment Tribunal, Minister for Business and Employment Neil Costa announced yesterday at a press call.

Part of the reform has been to set rules in plain English so that it assists litigants that may not opt for a lawyer or appear before the tribunal in person.

“But they set out in meticulous detail what the powers of chairpersons are,” Mr Costa said.

The overriding objective is to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly and justly, that parties are on an equal footing, avoids unnecessary formality, seeks flexibility in the proceedings and saves expense.

A step-by-step guide on how to complete the claim form and the response form has been produced and staff at the Employment and Training Board are to be trained to provide advice and assistance.

Significantly, the reforms will not introduce fees to either start a claim or to defend a claim or even to request parties to pay a deposit into the employment tribunal.

“Our view, as Government, was that to introduce fees would be a tax on justice, the reality is that if somebody has been dismissed or they are facing discrimination or any other of the potential labour disputes that could arise the person who is out of work will not be in a position to be able to pay a fee to the tribunal and also afford a lawyer.”

The wholesale review also guarantees free, compulsory mediation. And, in a move that the Bar Council welcomes, the mediation will be without lawyers present.

Parties, in the presence of a qualified mediator, will have three attempts to try and settle the case. If it is then clear that the parties are nowhere near to resolving the matter then the case will proceed to the employment tribunal.

One of the problems with the current system, Mr Costa said, is that cases were taking far too long.

“In an irony of circumstances when I became the Minister for Employment I found that I was appointing a Chairperson for a case that I started as a lawyer in 2007.”

“And of course we want to make that kind of gross delay completely a thing of the past. So the rules introduce extremely important case management powers for Chairpersons so that they can certainly keep the parties on track to deadlines so that justice is not delayed,” Mr Costa added.

In addition, the Ministry of Employment will partner with the University of Gibraltar to offer a tailor made day course for lawyers who may be eligible for selection as Chairpersons to the tribunal. This is the first time that training for Employment Tribunal Chairpersons will be offered in Gibraltar, the Government said.

The training day will provide Chairpersons who preside over Employment Tribunals with an opportunity to develop their knowledge and understanding of the new laws and procedure. The training will include topics on managing and solving the problems commonly encountered in assessing evidence, structuring decisions and formulating reasons.