The last Tory government attacked workers’ collective rights and this new one now plans to attack your individual rights. It is aiming to make it far harder for workers to get access to justice in the Employment Tribunals and shift power even further in favour of bad employers.
From April this year, the qualifying period of employment to allow an employee to take an unfair dismissal claim increases to two years from one year. In other words employees can be sacked for the most trivial reason (or none at all) and if they have less than two years’ service there is no legal remedy available. This naked attack on workers’ rights is dressed up as a strategy for growth, but it is nothing of the sort. There is no evidence that countries which have more protection for employees than the UK have lower growth as a result. Indeed Germany and France’s economies where employees are better protected, despite the problems with the Euro, have continued to grow faster than the UK.
If that was not enough they also plan to price employees out of access to justice by introducing fees. This will mean that from 2013/ 2014 a worker will have to pay to get their complaint heard by a tribunal. This is a tax on workers who have been unfairly dismissed, suffered discrimination, victimisation, or unlawful deductions from wages and simply want justice. Although formally this is up for consultation until March 6, 2012, there is no doubting the government’s intention to introduce fees whatever the case against. All the government is consulting upon is how the fees are introduced.
The first proposal is that an individual, depending on the type of claim, will have to pay £150.00, £200.00 or £250.00 just to lodge a claim. After that even higher fees will be payable at different stages including a fee of £250.00, £1000.00 or £1250.00 for the hearing to actually take place.
The second proposal is that an individual claimant would pay one main fee of £200.00, £500.00, £600.00 or £1750.00. The amount due to be paid would depend on the amount of compensation being claimed with the highest fee for claims of £30000.00 or more.
Both proposals have various levels of fees for multiple claimant cases depending on the numbers making a claim. This may seriously impact on employees’ ability to pursue claims for equal pay in the future.
The government also intends to introduce fees for anyone wanting to appeal an employment tribunal decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The fee for issuing an appeal is set at £400.00 and £1250.00 for a hearing. This means that where an employee wins an appeal they could have paid more than £3000.00 in fees alone.
Currently most Employment Tribunals comprise of a legally qualified employment judge and two lay members representing broadly the experience of both sides in the workplace. This is meant to provide some balance to decision making. The government intend to remove lay members from unfair dismissal cases and leave it to an employment judge alone to decide the case. Legally trained judges may be in danger of taking a narrow approach and unfair dismissal law already favours employers. These are just the type of cases where the input of lay members with experience of the real world of work is most valuable!
But of course none of this is about making informed decisions any more than it is to do with justice. In fact most of those involved with Employment Tribunals oppose these measures. As Paul Kenny said when Vince Cable (Lib-Dem Secretary of State for BIS) announced these plans on November 23, 2012, “This agenda is being driven by the CBI who want the balance of power in the workplace tilted even more against the ordinary worker.” The government has made it clear this is just a start in its campaign to remove workplace legal rights. Its next target will be the legal duties on employers to consult employee representatives on collective redundancies and other collective dismissals.
These measures need to be fought every inch of the way in and outside Parliament by all those who are concerned about workers’ rights. Justice should be accessible for all and not determined by the size of your wallet. If this government and its backers win they will keep coming back for more.
Last year tens of thousands came together and demonstrated their anger at being made to pay the price for the economic mess in the magnificent demonstration in March and public sector strike over pensions. The same financiers, corporations and banks that made the mess are the ones that have set this government’s agenda for employment law. The answer to these attacks on rights at work is for individual employees to gain the collective strength of union membership which is undoubtedly the most effective means of establishing workplace rights. Where legal action is needed the support of GMB legal services will be more essential than ever to provide guidance through the new obstacles being placed in the way of justice.