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  • 13 Jun 2014
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Continued fall in employment tribunals set to refuel Unison debate

The number of claims to employment tribunals plummeted 59 per cent in the last year, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

Just 5,619 single claims were brought to employment tribunals between January and March 2014, compared to 13,739 cases in the same period the previous year.

Claims for unpaid wages saw the biggest fall of 85 per cent, with 3,133 claims submitted to employment tribunals during the first three months of this year.

Over the same period, sex discrimination cases fell from 6,017 to 1,222 (an 80 per cent reduction), but TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said this didn’t mean “Britain’s bosses have got a whole lot nicer in the past year. It’s simply because pursuing a complaint against a bad employer has become too expensive for many workers, and that is plain wrong,” she said.

Officials said the dramatic reduction was partly explained by the large number of multiple claims against a single employer – such as the airline industry cases that have been resolved over the last few years.

The latest fall in figures is likely to add fuel to Unison’s debate that the introduction of the fees system on 31 July 2013 was “pricing people put of justice.”

The Union’s judicial review was dismissed by the High Court in February this year on the grounds that the impact of fees was not yet quantifiable.

The ongoing significant reduction in claims could prompt a Parliamentary reform.

“It is not just employees who have expressed grave dissatisfaction, but many employers, who recognised the threat to ‘access to justice’,” said Richard Fox, head of employment law at Kingsley Napley LLP.

“There is no easy fix. However there are two possible developments. The first is that the government conducts the “review” they have been hinting at and it results in a downward revision of the level of tribunal fees, to something more appropriate and proportionate. The second is that Unison is able to use these statistics in their upcoming judicial review challenge,” he added.

However, Glenn Hayes, employment law partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell said caution was needed as a number of factors in addition to the introduction of fees could be influencing the declining number of claims.

“Key reasons could include the increase to two years of the qualification period for unfair dismissal, the change to compensation on unfair dismissals, and employees trying to resolve their disputes in other ways. ACAS, for example, offers a pre-claim conciliation service which is free to use whilst it is also possible that employees with contract claims are using the small claims courts to resolve disputes as the fees are significantly cheaper than those payable in the Employment Tribunal,” he said.

Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, said the union would continue to challenge the tribunal fee structure and “fight for justice for all.”

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Comments (3)
  • I wouldn't want anyone to be denied access to justice. However, the other side of the coin is that sometimes an employer has to justifiably dismiss people. We make great efforts to do this with care, following a fair process and consulting with our solicitors. But when someone was dismissed, no matter how justifiable, a tribunal claim was submitted resulting in significant legal costs even to submit the ET3 response. In addition the time and effort to prepare documents and evidence is considerable, but no charge was made to the wrong doing employee.

  • The fees don't mean there is no access to justice. They just mean you have to be pretty confident of having a strong case before starting the process. I think that's fair.

    Let's remember tribunals aren't just about 'bad employers' - there are plenty of cases that are found to be not well-founded.

  • There has been a growth in private third-party arbitration/conciliation firms and individuals reducing the number of claims going to court.