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Mediation of Employment Rights Disputes

Final Report Summary - MEDEMP (Mediation of Employment Rights Disputes)

Project context and objectives

The objective of the research project was to identify factors that are crucial for making the mediation of individual employment disputes of rights effective and then to apply them in a Austria, a country that although it had introduced a legal framework for the practice of mediating disputes comparatively early on nevertheless does not make use of this form of dispute resolution very often.

Work performed

Outgoing phase 2010-2011: During the outgoing phase of the fellowship, the mediation system in a country which has a long experience in using mediation for resolving workplace conflicts, New Zealand, was chosen as an exemplary case study. Both qualitative and quantitative socio-legal research was undertaken. Besides the institutional set-up, four possible factors of success were identified: people (the mediators), theory, process, as well as attitudes and expectations (of the users).

Incoming phase 2011-2012: The incoming phase was dedicated to exploring possible avenues of how to transfer the findings of the New Zealand research into the Austrian legal and cultural environment. It soon became evident that, in particular, the lack of a theoretical framework for mediation within the Austrian legal and institutional context made this very hard. As a first step, a sound theoretical foundation had to be laid before further empirical research was undertaken. This especially concerned the matter of possible obstacles for the use of mediation for workplace conflict. An apparent crucial factor is the often prevalent but seldom explicitly stated collective approach to conflict resolution in Austrian industrial relations; mediation, on the other hand, stresses the individual level. These aspects of dispute resolution are especially worthy of further research, as well as the exploration of the effect of the institutional industrial relations framework in Austria (the 'Sozialpartnerschaft' or social partnership). This also includes collective conflict (especially strikes), which was an important driver for the evolution of mediation in the employment field. The fellowship and especially the comparative perspective acquired during the outgoing phase therefore have served as a valuable impetus for the future research agenda of the fellow.

Conclusions and potential impact

The project has led to valuable insights into how an efficient employment mediation system may work but has also shown the numerous limitations on the transferability of findings from one national context to another. It has acted as an important driver for much needed further research on the subject of employment mediation in Austria, research which will be undertaken by the former fellow. Another effect of the project is that the researcher has, by drawing on his acquired experiences, designed teaching modules for university courses on mediation in general and on employment mediation in particular. He is also working together with the social partners and the chamber of employees, as well as with the economic chamber, to establish a pilot project on employment mediation implementing findings from the comparative research.