Employment Tribunal · Employment Wrongs

Priced Out

A letter signed by the TUC’s Frances O’Grady and Len McCluskey of Unite among others calls for the scrapping of Employment Tribunal Fees:

Since July 2013, when the government introduced fees for anyone taking their employer to an employment tribunal, there has been a huge drop in claims. This is denying workers access to justice – and in particular women with discrimination claims. Official statistics show an 81% drop in claims lodged between April and June 2014, compared to the same time in 2013. All types of discrimination claims, for which a fee of up to £1,200 is now payable, have fallen: the worst affected being sex discrimination cases, which are 91% down. Even “straightforward” claims for unpaid wages attract a fee of £390, which may, in some cases, be more than the amount sought by the worker.

Despite ministers’ assertions that the change was needed to prevent unfounded and vexatious claims, no evidence has emerged that shows the drastic decline is attributable to the falling of such claims. On the contrary, evidence gathered by the TUC, Citizens Advice Scotland, Citizens Advice (England and Wales), the Law Society of Scotland and the universities of Bristol and Strathclyde shows that workers with genuine cases are being prevented from lodging their claims simply because of their inability to pay the fees.

This effectively means that a growing number of unlawful employment practices are going unpunished. When ministers say it’s not right that taxpayers should foot the bill for employment tribunals, they overlook the fact that the workers bringing claims are themselves taxpayers.

The government is currently reviewing its fees policy. It must, as part of this process, conduct a full equality impact assessment highlighting just how the charges are affecting workers bringing claims relating to sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. Workers’ access to justice cannot be guaranteed while fees remain in place. The government must end this unfair and inequitable policy by abolishing fees at the first opportunity.

I fully endorse the appeal. Whilst I think the early conciliation moves are broadly a good idea – despite in my experience central government employers showing an absolute reluctance to conciliate – the introduction of fees have been disastrous for workers. I have certainly seen individuals with good cases, who have tried to resolve matters internally but failed, be dissuaded from pursuing their cases.

But one of the notable omissions from the letter is Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison whose union has again lost its most recent challenge to the fees system because, in the words of Mr Justice Foskett:

For my part, I would anticipate that if the statistics upon which reliance is placed in support of this application were drilled down to some individual cases, situations would be revealed that showed an inability on the part of some people to proceed before an Employment Tribunal through lack of funds which would not have been the case before the new regime was set in place. However, that assessment has to be seen as speculative until convincing evidence to that effect is uncovered.

I am sure they knew what they are doing but I have too say i am extremely surprised Unison did not try to demonstrate precisely the type of cases referred to. In any case, leave to appeal has been granted, here’s hoping it will be successful.

Reference: Unison (No. 2), R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor [2014] EWHC 4198

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