THE Westminster government proposes charging fees for the issuing and hearing of claims at employment tribunals.
There has never been a consultation on the principle of whether fees should be introduced or not. The government merely consulted on ways of charging fees. It then published a consultation response entitled Charging Fees In Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
From summer this year, tribunal claimants will be required to pay initial issuing fees, followed by hearing fees, payable at a later date. Simply stated, in all unfair dismissal claims, the issuing fee will be £250, with the hearing fee set at £950, and the total fee payable being £1,200.
If we dip into the historical establishment of industrial tribunals, now referred to as employment tribunals, they were originally intended to be easily accessible, informal, speedy and inexpensive. By the coalition government pursuing a charge for this process, it is essentially putting access to justice beyond the means of most working people.
In view of all the other reforms taking place, and the one-sided nature of the fees paid (with only claimants paying), this measure is best seen as another attempt to reduce claims. It is truly a measure to reduce all claims, including those of good standing.
The coalition’s claimed purpose is to reduce the cost. But by setting a high level of fees, it will alter the dynamics of settling, as claimants will want to ensure that any fees paid will be reimbursed.
The introduction of any level of fees is going to have an impact of the ability of people to bring claims, and this will always impact most on the most disadvantaged, including the disabled, women and ethnic minorities. The ability of such groups to challenge wrongful behaviour by employers will be seriously curtailed. And organisations, such as trade unions, which aid them, will be stretched and will have to reduce the number of cases they take on.
The coalition claims it is committed to justice for all, However, the introduction of fees will be a significant barrier to the vulnerable to put in a claim.
• Jim Warnock is a group human resources director based in Breich, West Calder.