The government should admit tribunal fees were a mistake, says UNISON

The government’s decision to demand a fee from anyone taking their employer to court was ill-judged, has failed to save the taxpayer money, and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice, says UNISON.

The government’s long-awaited review of the impact of fees has been published, and shows a 70% drop in the number of cases taken to employment tribunals over the past three and a half years.

But despite the review accepting that there’s been a “sharp, significant and sustained” drop in the number of claims, ministers have decided access to justice hasn’t been affected, says UNISON.

The government says the fall is because workers are choosing not to bring cases, opting instead to spend their money elsewhere.

Under the changes low-paid women have been the biggest losers, especially those who are pregnant or on maternity leave, says UNISON.

Although employees on very low wages can get assistance to pay the fees, even those earning the national minimum wage aren’t always entitled to help, says UNISON.

When the changes were introduced ministers claimed the move would save the taxpayer money. But the review shows the government is only recouping a fraction of the cost of tribunals – just 13 per cent, says UNISON.

Commenting on the review – which was meant to have been published in the summer of 2014 – UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The Lord Chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong.

“Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately, before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.

“Unfortunately it’s now much harder for people who’ve been treated unfairly at work to seek justice. Women have been the biggest losers, bad bosses the undoubted winners.

“The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is punish lower paid employees with genuine grievances. That’s why our legal challenge continues.”

The union first mounted its legal challenge against the decision to make employees pay to bring a case against their employers in July 2013. Its appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court on 27 and 28 March 2017.