A Government review has confirmed that there has been a sharp reduction in the number of Employment Tribunal claims being brought of 70%. Nevertheless, the Government has refused to scrap Tribunal fees despite the fact that the review concedes that: “there is…some evidence that some people who have been unable to resolve their disputes through conciliation have been discouraged from bringing a formal employment tribunal claim because of the requirement to pay a fee.” In fact, all the Government has agreed to do in response to this is to very slightly expand the remission scheme. Currently those aged over 25 who earn a gross income of up to £1,085.00 per month are exempt from fees. This will increase to £1,250.00 per month.
In response to the outcome of the review, Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of UNISON, stated: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The Lord Chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong. Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court. Unfortunately it’s now much harder for people who’ve been treated unfairly at work to seek justice. Women have been the biggest losers, bad bosses the undoubted winners. The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is punish lower paid employees with genuine grievances. That’s why our legal challenge continues.“
In a statement which highlights the lack of objectivity and impartiality in the Government review, and which illustrates how badly out of touch the Government has become with the lives of most people, and which demonstrates that its biggest priority is the interests of big business, the review stated that it considered the 70% fall in the number of Employment Tribunal claims being brought as “a positive outcome.” Obviously, the attitude of those writing the report and of the Government is one of never mind the injustice of it all. Moreover, as Dave Prentis highlighted, those most likely to be adversely impacted are low paid women. Furthermore, as the General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, points out: “The government is dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out…The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.” Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, added: “The government is turning a blind eye to the impact of tribunal fees. Thousands are being priced out from pursuing cases each month. Charging people to take a claim has been a gift to Britain’s worst bosses, and it’s allowed discrimination at work to flourish unchallenged.“
Last year, the House of Commons Justice Committee released a damning report upon Employment Tribunal Fees, stating that the fees had “damaged” access to justice for employees as they were unaffordable for all but the wealthy. Committee Chair Bob Neill stated: “…the timing and scale of the reduction [of almost 70%] following immediately from the introduction of fees can leave no doubt that the clear majority of the decline is attributable to fees.” As we stated at the time, this conclusion made a total mockery of the ludicrous assertions of the Court of Appeal in the UNISON case that there was insufficient evidence for a link between the introduction of the fees and the scale of the reduction in the number of Tribunal cases being brought. The Committee recommended that the fees should be substantially reduced and that the remission system be reformed.
UNISON’s appeal to the Supreme Court against the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees will be heard on the 27th and 28th March 2017. In a statement following the publication of the Government’s review, UNISON stated: “The government’s decision to demand a fee from anyone taking their employer to court was ill-judged, has failed to save the taxpayer money, and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice.“
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, once famously said about the Conservative Party back in 2002, “You know what some people call us – the nasty party.” And when she was elected leader of the party and thereby became Prime Minister in July 2016, she said that her “mission [was] to make Britain a country that works for everyone…..If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.” Now these are fine words, but actions speak far louder than words. And the Government’s continuing refusal to scrap Employment Tribunal fees, a policy that hits the poorest the hardest, speaks volumes. It demonstrates that the Conservative Party remains the nasty party whose biggest priority is the interests of big business, that the course the Government has set this country on will never work for everyone, but only for the privileged few, and that the Prime Ministers words are nothing more than empty rhetoric and weasel words.
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