Small business urged to choose mediation over litigation

Deputy Ombudsman Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise, Dr Craig Latham, is chairing a panel at Resolution Institute’s International Dispute Resolution conference today, Friday 16 July, at which he will tell small-business owners that alternative dispute resolution through mediation, conciliation and arbitration is the way forward in maintaining their commercial relationships with suppliers and customers.

Dr Latham will highlight the inevitability of disputes arising due to the financial stress brought on by the COVID crisis, with small and family businesses those hardest hit by the downturn. Rent pressure has made commercial leases one of the biggest flashpoints, generating a significant number of disputes.

“Commercial disputes are very common, but they can be devastating when not handled well,” Dr Latham said. “Alternative dispute resolution through mediation, conciliation and arbitration is the best way to preserve commercial relationships.”

The Deputy Ombudsman stressed that resolving disputes via the courts is not viable for the majority of small businesses due to the high costs and amount of time litigation eats up. He warned that many small businesses end up having to walk away the dispute due to those costs and the mental stress of taking legal action, burning their bridges with the commercial partner involved with the dispute in the process. He urged small businesses in dispute-prone sectors to focus on the efficient resolution of disputes in order to maintain business and rebuild community confidence and harmony. He promoted flexibility and reinvention of consent-based dispute resolution procedures as the way forward in these challenging times.

Amber Williams, CEO of the Resolution Institute, said that Dispute resolution, or mediation and arbitration, helps people and businesses to avoid the litigation lottery of having a dispute heard in court, pointing out that the outcomes are more certain and that taking that approach is cheaper and more efficient than going to court.

“Given the pressure smallbusiness owners have been under throughout the COVID crisis and the inevitable stress that comes with being involved in a dispute, it’s important that our dispute resolution avenues are supportive of participants’ wellbeing,” Dr Latham said.

Alongside Dr Latham on the panel will be Michael Miller, Director, Mediation Services, NSW Small Business Commissioner, Rebecca McKelvie, Senior Mediation Officer, Victorian Small Business Commission and Ian Nosworthy, SA Government Small Business Mediator.