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Fees for Tribunals may price out equality claims

New fees introduced for employment tribunals could force claimants to pay up to £1200 if they wish to pursue a case against an employer. The Government claims that the new fees will cut down the number of weak or frivolous cases and reduce the burden on employers, and business groups have responded positively. Unions have expressed outrage over the moves, however, arguing that employees with genuine grievances will be priced out of the tribunal process.

Cases relating to unpaid redundancy pay or unpaid wages will attract an initial issue fee of £160, plus a further charge of £230 if the case goes to a hearing. Cases relating to discrimination complaints, unfair dismissal and equal pay claims will require even higher fees -- the issue fee is £250 and the hearing fee an extra £950. If the case goes to appeal, some claimants may face further costs of up to £1600.

Currently, the full cost of the employment tribunals system is met from public funds. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly pointed to the annual bill for the employment tribunals system -- some £84 million -- and asserted that this was a unfair burden on the taxpayer. "We want people, where they can, to pay a fair contribution for the system they are using, which will encourage them to look for alternatives," he is quoted as saying in a press release from the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice argues that the introduction of fees will encourage both employees and businesses to use alternative means of resolving disputes, including mediation and arbitration. The Ministry states that the majority of cases can be resolved effectively through other channels and wishes to see employment tribunals used as a last resort, with only the most complex and intractable cases going to a hearing. Following a consultation, the Ministry of Justice has reduced the fees from the amounts initially proposed.

Business groups have broadly welcomed the new policy, pointing to a reduction of the overall pressure on businesses from employment tribunals. Resolving disputes via mediation is generally a less costly and time-consuming option for a business. The potential for a reduction in the number of frivolous claims is also good news for employers, they claim. While doubts have been expressed by some in the business world, these chiefly relate to the government's remission scheme, which will protect some lower-paid claimants from having to pay the fees.

Trade unions, on the other hand, have been strongly critical of the new fees, arguing that they will leave many with no access to employment justice if they are unfairly dismissed, discriminated against or left without pay. Union representatives argue that forcing claimants to find hundreds or thousands of pounds if they want to take their employers to an industrial tribunal will leave many without an effective means to address breaches of employment law. Unions argue that this will create more job insecurity without generating new employment and will lead to a rise in discrimination, unfair pay and other breaches of employment law.

Unite, the largest trade union in the UK, takes the position that the fees may actually be unlawful. In a policy document, Unite states that tribunal fees are likely to impair access to justice and may infringe on both EU derived rights and human rights. Unite also expressed concerns over the way that the consultation on tribunal fees was conducted, arguing that respondents were only offered two limited options, excluding other strategies which might offer a more equitable solution.

Unison, the UK's second-largest trade union, has also expressed strong opposition to tribunal fees. The union states that the proposed system is not in the interests of claimants or employers, regarding the fees as punitive and likely to bar many employees with legitimate grievances from pursuing claims. Unison argues that the fees amount to charging employees for the opportunity to protect their legal employment rights, claiming that the new system will be over-complicated and unnecessarily expensive. In evidence given to the Government, Unison put forward the view that the problem of spurious claims has been overstated. The union also claims that due to the cost and complexity of the system, simply collecting the fees will cost as much as 59p in every £1; Unison argues that this may render any savings to the taxpayer moot.

The General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, spoke out against the proposed system. He has stated that the introduction of fees for tribunals will create a deterrent for many claimants. He noted that this will particularly affect lower-paid employees, for whom the new fees would be prohibitively expensive. Speaking in response to news of the introduction of tribunal fees, Barber said that "many of the UK's most vulnerable workers will simply be priced out of justice." He branded the Government's remission scheme, intended to provide protection for low-paid workers, as "woefully inadequate".

Under the new system, Barber claims that rogue employers will no longer have any fear of sanctions resulting from employment tribunals and will be free to break employment laws at will, secure in the knowledge that their employees will have little or no recourse.


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