Sunday, March 16, 2014

No justice for workers

I have been worried for several years about the way in which the trade unions handle employment tribunal litigation and how we have contributed to the declining utility of the tribunals to defend workers’ rights. However, the Coalition Government have excelled themselves in undermining employment tribunals through the introduction of fees payable by claimants last summer.

Official statistics reveal the sheer scale of the weakening of the employment tribunals by the current Government. In employment tribunals, the number of claims received in October to December 2013 was 9,801 – 79% fewer than in the same period of 2012, and 75% fewer than last quarter. This is a phenomenal decline, which is clearly attributable, in large part, to the introduction of tribunal fees.

This represents the undermining of a system year for recompensing workers who are victims of (unlawful) injustice which was already weak and flawed – as a Government survey (which looked into whether tribunal awards were paid)  last year found; “Overall, around half (49%) of claimants had been paid in full, and a further 16% had been paid in part. This amounts to 64% of all claimants, and leaves 35% who had not received any money at all.” The problem with this is that tribunal awards amount merely to a debt which then has to be enforced.

Individual (or even collective) litigation is rarely likely to be the best way to secure good employee relations for the benefit of workers. However, where workers have no option but to pursue a legal avenue, we ought to have easy access to an effective remedy. Labour’s manifesto for the next General Election ought not only to pledge to remove tribunal fees, but also to make tribunal awards directly enforceable. 

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