Author: Gra Green
Published: Sep 10 2013
With protests from unions over employment tribunal fees, and leading trade unionists declaring unhappy times ahead (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jul/29/protest-employment-tribunal-fees), is it a good time to be a bad boss?
The British Government upset trade unions when it outlined plans to charge workers for taking their employers to tribunal over claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal. Claimants do not usually incur costs at first-tier tribunals in the UK, but government officials sought to limit the number of employment law cases at this level to improve conditions for employers.
The employment tribunal system in the UK had been regarded as a costly, time-consuming inconvenience for employers. At a time when economic recovery was apparently the chief concern of government, measures were drafted to insulate employers from spurious, weak or insubstantial claims. The government could not stand by and watch as employers were dragged through a process that cost taxpayers approximately £74 million a year. Justice minister Helen Grant believes action had to be taken. But union chiefs are adamant that, while the cost of tribunals will be transferred to claimants, access to justice will suffer as a result.
Employment law services will be relied on to an even greater extent from the end of July. The new employment law changes that have come into effect include the creation of a two-tier claims system. Level 1 claimants will be charged an issue fee of £160 for basic claims involving redundancy, non-payment of wages and other relatively minor disputes. They will also be required to pay £230 towards the cost of the hearing.
Level 2 claimants will need to pay considerably more. In cases involving serious issues such as unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal, inequality, discrimination and whistle-blowing, claimants will be charged a £250 issue fee and £950 hearing fee. That means the total upfront cost of taking an employer to tribunal over an issue as serious as sexual harassment will be £1,200. If the claimant cannot afford to pay this amount, he or she would be denied access to justice at the first hurdle.
O'Grady claims the government has shifted the burden of responsibility from employers to employees, adding that the new measures will merely help the former "get away with the most appalling behaviour." She added that the legal changes are part of an overarching policy that aims to deprive workers of their basic rights.
Unison, meanwhile, has officially challenged the government's decision to introduce tribunal fees. Although its request for a judicial review on the new measures was rejected, Unison has sought an oral hearing on the validity of its application.
Other changes to employment law that have come into effect include a lower limit on the amount of compensation that can be paid out in claims of unfair dismissal. The previous limit of £74,200 has now been replaced by the lower of £74,200 or one year's salary. In another change, employers will no longer be able to rely on the 'without prejudice' clause of pre-termination negotiations in claims of unfair dismissal unless a dispute had already arisen between the parties.
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