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 ‚Äď 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 which¬†a fee of up to ¬£1,200¬†is now payable, have fallen: the worst affected being sex discrimination cases, which are 91% down. Even ‚Äústraightforward‚ÄĚ claims for unpaid wages attract a fee of ¬£390, which may, in some cases, be more than the amount sought by the worker.
Despite ministers‚Äô 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 it‚Äôs 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. Workers‚Äô 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 O‚ÄôGrady¬†General secretary, Trades Union Congress
Len McCluskey¬†General secretary, Unite the Union
Carolyn Jones¬†Director, Institute of Employment Rights
Andrew Alexander¬†The Law Society of Scotland
Andrew Caplan¬†President, The Law Society of England and Wales¬†
Margaret Lynch¬†Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Scotland
John Hendy QC¬†Old Square Chambers
Keith Ewing¬†Professor of public law, King‚Äôs College London
Nicole Busby¬†Professor of labour law, University of Strathclyde¬†
Morag McDermont¬†Professor of socio-legal studies, University of Bristol