'Encouraging bad employers' | New tribunal fees a 'green light' for bad bosses to exploit workers, campaigners warn

New tribunal fees a 'green light' for bad bosses to exploit workers, campaigners warn

Unions, legal networks and rights organisations have slammed the Government’s decision to reintroduce employment tribunal fees.

In a joint statement penned by 48 organisations and campaigners including the TUC, Citizens Advice, Maternity Action, Women’s Budget Group, Liberty, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Fawcett Society, and Mother Pukka, the signatories call on the government to urgently reconsider its plans.

In 2017, after Unison brought a legal challenge, the Supreme Court quashed the previous tribunal fees regime because it “effectively prevents access to justice and is therefore unlawful.”

However, the Government recently announced it had launched a consultation to seek views on whether to reinstate a £55 fee for people to bring an Employment Tribunal claim. A period of consultation is now open for people to submit their comments.

In a statement on the UK Government website, Mike Freer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, explained that this consultation over introducing modest fees in the for employment tribunals “will ensure users are paying towards the running costs of the tribunals and put its users on broadly the same footing as users of other court and tribunals who already pay fees, thereby ensuring cross-jurisdictional consistency.”

He added that “it is appropriate that some of the costs of running the ET and EAT should be recouped from those who use the system, and who can afford to do so.”

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The Ministry of Justice said it had carefully considered the 2017 Supreme Court ruling on the previous approach to fees in the Employment Tribunals and has “endeavoured to ensure that the fees proposed in this consultation are proportionate and affordable”. Furthermore, those who cannot afford to pay the proposed fees will be supported by a fee remission scheme.

Concluding, Freer commented: “I believe these proposals are balanced and in the best interests of all tribunal users, and would encourage anyone with an interest in this area to respond to this consultation.

“I am proud of this Government’s mission to run an efficient and effective justice system, to protect the rule of law and ensure access to justice for all. A fee regime that is transparent, effective and fair will underpin these critical aims well into the future.”

On the opposing side of the argument, the joint statement says the decision will put yet another hurdle in front of those seeking justice, highlighting the existing barriers working people face including:

  • Lack of awareness of key employment rights and the process for bringing a claim.

  • Strict time limits on filing claims.

  • An under-resourced employment tribunal system leading to significant delays in cases being heard.

  • An under-funded labour market enforcement system that doesn’t have enough inspectors to proactively enforce employment rights.

The groups say that introducing fees will encourage exploitation of workers.

“We believe this will deter many from lodging worthy claims and gives a green light to bad employers to exploit their workers,” a joint statement read.

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“Bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones, safe in the knowledge they are less likely to face claims in the employment tribunal.

“Employment rights are only real if they are enforced. Tribunal fees risk pricing many workers out of workplace justice.”

The collective also raised concerns about the impact on workers in the middle of a cost of living crisis, stating: “Workers seeking recovery of wage theft, unpaid redundancy pay and compensation for unfair dismissal are to be asked to stump up extra money at an incredibly tough moment in their lives.

“Fee exemption procedures are complex and difficult to understand for many, especially within the three months' time limit for most claims.

“Fees are also being levied at a time when rising inflation and subdued wages are putting pressure on family budgets. Access to justice must never be contingent on your ability to pay.”

And they warn that those at the sharp end includes workers already at high risk of mistreatment, adding: “Tribunal fees risk pricing many workers out of workplace justice, especially workers at greater risk of employment law violations such as pregnant workers, disabled workers and migrant workers.”

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “All working people should be able to enforce their rights. 

“But introducing fees for tribunals puts yet another hurdle in the way of those seeking justice at their most vulnerable moment.

“The Conservatives have already tried this and failed. Last time they introduced tribunal fees, claims dropped by two-thirds. And the Supreme Court threw fees out – saying they interfered with access to justice.

“That should have been the nail in the coffin for these cynical plans, but ministers have decided to side with bad bosses over workers and resurrect employment tribunal fees.

“Employment tribunal fees give employers a pass to exploit workers – whether it’s discrimination, unfair sackings or withheld wages.

“Working people shouldn’t be picking up the bill for exploitative employers’ poor behaviour. It’s plain wrong. Ministers must halt their plans without delay.”

Rosalind Bragg, Director at Maternity Action Group, said: “For pregnant women and new mothers in the cost of living crisis, every penny counts.  Charging fees for employment tribunal claims puts the justice system out of reach for women at a time when they are most in need of protection.

“If the Government is serious about stamping out maternity discrimination, they should be reducing barriers to justice not increasing them. Fees will reduce the deterrent effect of the employment tribunal, reassuring bad employers that they can get away with breaking the law.

“We have laws in place to secure equal treatment of pregnant women and new mothers at work but these are ineffective without the robust operation of the employment tribunal.  Fees are a step backwards in the fight for gender equality.”

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