TRADE union Unison has been given permission to seek a judicial review over controversial new fees for workers taking an employment tribunal case.
• Union granted hearing over move to charge users of tribunal service
• Unison accuse government of “putting a price on justice”
• Minister says fees could be “looked at again” if system proves unfair
Unison said the High Court gave the go-ahead for a hearing to be held in October, although the union expressed disappointment that its challenge could not be held before the charges of up to £1,200 for cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination came in today.
General secretary Dave Prentis said: “I am pleased that Unison has been successful in getting permission for a judicial review hearing. The introduction of punitive fees for taking a claim to an employment tribunal would give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights.
“The Government should not put a price on justice. It is disappointing that in the interim fees will still be paid, but we will be making a strong case for a judicial review in October because we believe that these fees are unfair and should be dropped.”
The GMB staged a protest outside an employment tribunal in central London, while leading unions said they will pay fees for their members.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “What we are seeing today is injustice writ large as this worker-bashing Government takes a sledgehammer to workers’ rights - this is a throwback to Victorian times.
“Seeking redress for unfair dismissal and discrimination and other injustices in the workplace is a fundamental human right - but now ministers are putting up insurmountable financial hurdles for working people in pursuit of justice.
“We estimate that this will affect 150,000 workers a year. This is not an aid to economic recovery but a means to keep working people frightened and insecure.”
Andy Prendergast of the GMB, said: “The imposition of such fees represents the latest in a number of attacks on employment rights by the Government.
“Bad employers are being given the green light to continue exploiting their staff.
“The charging of £1,200 effectively means that many workers will lose any chance they had to seek redress if they are poorly treated.”
Elizabeth George, a barrister in the employment team at law firm Leigh Day, said: “This sends a very dangerous message to employers who will be less inclined to abide by their legal obligations as the risk of being challenged will be much reduced.
“These fees will disproportionately hit those suffering discrimination because of their age, race, disability and gender, with women returning from maternity leave particularly hard hit as they’ll be judged on their salary when they left rather than their statutory maternity pay.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Today is a great day for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the Government is making it easier for employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour.
“These reforms are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights at work. Its only achievement will be to price vulnerable people out of justice.”
Justice minister Helen Grant admitted that tribunal fees could be “looked at again” if they proved unjust or unfair.
But she said she was confident that introducing fees was the correct course of action as those on lower pay or on benefits would not have to pay fees and judges for the first time had the power to order the losers of a case to pay all legal fees.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s important to remember too that these are new fees we have committed, that we will monitor the impact very, very carefully on women and other individuals with protected characteristics to ensure that justice and fairness is done.
“And if it is not done of course we will look at it again.”
She went on: “We know that drawn out disputes are emotionally damaging to workers, they are financially damaging to business, and I feel as a Government we need to be doing everything we possibly can to encourage quick, cheap, simple alternatives like mediation.
“Litigation is not fun, I was a litigation lawyer for 23 years prior to becoming a politician and there is never really a winner or a loser, it’s highly stressful, and if we can encourage other people to find other ways of resolving disputes at minimal cost in a less acrimonious way then that has to be a good thing.
“It’s important that we try to reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer. It costs £74 million per annum to run the employment tribunal system and we genuinely feel that users who can afford to contribute should do so.”
Alexander Ehmann, of the Institute of Directors, said: “Our members consistently tell us that the threat of being taken to an employment tribunal is a major concern, even if they ultimately win the case.
“Charging user fees for employment tribunals will reduce the number of unmerited claims which get a hearing, saving money for both employers and taxpayers.”