Since July 2013, when the government introduced fees for anyone taking their employer to an employment tribunal, there has been a huge drop in claims. This is denying workers access to justice â€“ and in particular women with discrimination claims. Official statistics show an 81% drop in claims lodged between April and June 2014, compared to the same time in 2013. All types of discrimination claims, for whichÂ a fee of up to ÂŁ1,200Â is now payable, have fallen: the worst affected being sex discrimination cases, which are 91% down. Even â€śstraightforwardâ€ť claims for unpaid wages attract a fee of ÂŁ390, which may, in some cases, be more than the amount sought by the worker.
Despite ministersâ€™ assertions that the change was needed to prevent unfounded and vexatious claims, no evidence has emerged that shows the drastic decline is attributable to the falling of such claims. On the contrary, evidence gathered by the TUC, Citizens Advice Scotland, Citizens Advice (England and Wales), the Law Society of Scotland and the universities of Bristol and Strathclyde shows that workers with genuine cases are being prevented from lodging their claims simply because of their inability to pay the fees.
This effectively means that a growing number of unlawful employment practices are going unpunished. When ministers say itâ€™s not right that taxpayers should foot the bill for employment tribunals, they overlook the fact that the workers bringing claims are themselves taxpayers.
The government is currently reviewing its fees policy. It must, as part of this process, conduct a full equality impact assessment highlighting just how the charges are affecting workers bringing claims relating to sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. Workersâ€™ access to justice cannot be guaranteed while fees remain in place. The government must end this unfair and inequitable policy by abolishing fees at the first opportunity.
Frances Oâ€™GradyÂ General secretary, Trades Union Congress
Len McCluskeyÂ General secretary, Unite the Union
Carolyn JonesÂ Director, Institute of Employment Rights
Andrew AlexanderÂ The Law Society of Scotland
Andrew CaplanÂ President, The Law Society of England and WalesÂ
Margaret LynchÂ Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Scotland
John Hendy QCÂ Old Square Chambers
Keith EwingÂ Professor of public law, Kingâ€™s College London
Nicole BusbyÂ Professor of labour law, University of StrathclydeÂ
Morag McDermontÂ Professor of socio-legal studies, University of Bristol