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Unions urge Govt to ditch 'exploitative' employment tribunal fees

Unions urge Govt to ditch 'exploitative' employment tribunal fees
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Almost 50 organisations, including the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Citizens Advice and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have joined forces to call on the Government to change its decision to bring back employment tribunal fees.

In a joint statement, campaign groups including Fawcett Society, Maternity Action and Women’s Budget Group said they believe the fees “deter many from lodging worthy claims” and mean “bad companies […] will be given a green light to exploit their workers.”

Their statement read: “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 timing of the charges – introduced by the coalition in 2013 and then ditched in 2017 for being unlawful – was also criticised.

The group added: “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-month 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.”

Fees proposed at a time of ‘rising inflation and subdued wages’

The group of organisations also said the cost of the tribunals risk pricing pregnant workers, disabled employees, and migrant employees “out of workplace justice.”

Plans for a return for the employment tribunal fees were proposed in consultation with Justice Minister Mike Freer at the end of January.

The payment was scrapped in 2017 by the Supreme Court, which ruled the costs breached both UK and European Union Law. Back in 2013, charges ranged from £390 to £1,200, depending on the complexity of the case.

Under the policy, workers would now have to stump up “a modest” fee of £55 – according to the MP – if they had a dispute with their employer. The Government insists help is available for employees who struggle to afford more than that. The consultation will continue until 25 March.

‘Yet another hurdle’ for vulnerable workers

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak criticised the potential new legislation and said the court charge “puts yet another hurdle in the way of those seeking justice at their most vulnerable moment.”

Nowak said: “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.”

The TUC chief added: “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.”

‘Fees are a step backwards in the fight for gender equality’

Rosalind Bragg, director at Maternity Action Group, said: “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.”