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DESIGN A WORKPLACE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDUREIntroductionIt is normal that disputes arise between parties in any collective endeavour requiring joint efforts. It is, therefore, necessary to put in place a mechanism to adjudicate and resolve these disputes in such a manner as agreed upon by the parties to the dispute. In many countries, we find suitable laws specifying the norms and procedures of dispute resolution and the mechanism, legal or otherwise, through which satisfactory solutions to disputes could be arrived at. An important one of these methods is through the "Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) process.

ADR is a voluntary method of arriving at a satisfactory solution to disputes. Unlike the traditional methods, which often are very formal ones, ADR provides to the concerned parties the right and scope to examine all the questions connected with the workplace and to arrive at solutions that are acceptable to all parties. Through ADR, the participants can resolve their disputes much more expeditiously than otherwise and the resolutions have much more acceptability and stability because they are arrived at by the participants rather than ‘imposed’ by an outside agency.

Irrespective of any particular ADR method that may be chosen, almost all the ADR methods have certain common characteristics, such as that they are all voluntary – the parties to the dispute choose to use the ADR method and that they are expeditious in that the recourse to any of these methods cuts short the time taken by the traditional method of litigation and, even arbitration in the resolution of disputes. Outline of an ADR In the following paragraphs, we discuss the set-up of a workplace dispute resolution procedure that would satisfy the following requirements: it allows decision making at the most appropriate level; it enhances opportunities to determine disputes according to interests and rights; it addresses issues of power in the workplace; and it is a low-cost system.

The Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution has put forward a scheme of an effective dispute redress system, which they should “contain options for preventing, identifying, and resolving issues; promote a culture that works to solve problems at the lowest level through direct negotiation; allow multiple access points; empower employees to select from a range of options for addressing the conflict; and contain effective structure and support to maintain options. ” (SPIDR: Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution, “Guidelines for the Design of Integrated Conflict Management Systems within Organizations”, 2000, at www. mediate. com/articles/ford9.cfm/ retrieved May 25, 2007) The method that we discuss below is a something of a variant of the method proposed by Ury, Brett, and Goldberg in the 1980s (William Ury, Jeanne Bret, and Stephen Goldberg, 1988, Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict, London: Jossey-Bass Publishers).

We indicate here the contours of the method discussed in some detail in the subsequent paragraphs. They mentioned three ways of resolving disputes: by negotiating interests, by adjudicating rights, or by pursuing power options, such as strikes or lockouts. The ideal method would be to resolve disputes at the level they occur, rather than searching for solutions based on one’s rights and power. Only if interest negotiation does not work, should the parties try a rights-based approach or a power-based one. Brahm and Oullet (2003) have suggested that an ADR design should incorporate the following principles in the dispute-resolution systems: ”(1).

The focus should be on interests; start with a process where the parties try to solve the problem using interest-based bargaining. (2). Provide low-cost rights and power backups. Arbitration, voting, and protests are low-cost alternatives to rights and power contests. (3). Build in "loop-backs" to negotiation. An example of a "loop-back" process is when parties settle a lawsuit out of court. As soon as it becomes clear who is likely to win, it is advantageous for both sides to avoid the costs and uncertainty of further litigation, and negotiate a solution to their dispute.

(4). Build in consultation before, feedback after. Increasing shared information is a basic strategy in ameliorating all conflicts. (5) Arrange procedures in a low-to-high-cost sequence. First, try to solve the dispute on one’s own, and then seek the help of a lawyer, etc. Ury, Brett, and Goldberg advise that by arranging dispute-resolution procedures in a low-to-high-cost sequence one can reduce the probability of rapid escalation. Finally, (6) provide the necessary motivation, skills, and resources.

An alternative system can function only if people buy into it. It is incumbent on the privileged in the conflict, and third-party interveners, to provide the resources and time necessary to generate cooperation with the new system. ”( Brahm, Eric and Julian Ouellet, September 2003 “Designing New Dispute Resolution Systems”, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, at www. beyondintractability. org/essay/designing_dispute_systems/ retrieved May 25. 2007)

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