Unite has warmly welcomed an election pledge from Labour to scrap controversial employment tribunal fees brought in by the Tory-led government almost two years ago.
The upfront fees – which have been heavily criticised by some bosses as well as trade unions – are believed to have denied millions their rightful access to justice.
A recent report from the TUC – called What price justice? – found there had been a staggering 79 per cent fall in the overall claims taken to tribunals, with low-paid workers and women worst hit.
The fees are set at £250 to issue a claim and £950 for a tribunal hearing, with appeals costing up to £1,600. Conservative ministers stuck to their guns on the prohibitive fees despite strong and sustained protests from Unite and others.
Labour – in launching A better plan for Britain’s workplaces – has said it will “ensure proper access to justice…..by abolishing the government’s employment tribunal fee system.”
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said this showed “working people (would) get some hope back under Ed Miliband.” He also hit out at David Cameron over the fall in the numbers of tribunal claims on his watch.
“Decent people have been shut out of justice and cheated out of wages,” he said, “while rogue bosses have been given a free hand to discriminate thanks to his government’s introduction of tribunal fees.
“When you start to charge people on the minimum wage more than a month’s wages to get back the pay stolen from them, then as a government you are just as bad as the rogues. Bad bosses celebrated the day this law was passed.”
Howard Beckett – Unite director for legal services – thinks Labour’s promise on fees is “a positive move and a good move in the right direction.
“You know employment tribunal fees have been part and parcel of a very well thought out attack on the rights of workers and the rights of trade unions,” he said.
Beckett believes voters are now faced are now faced with “an absolutely stark choice” on May 7.
“If you want protection from bad practices then you chose Labour, if you want a charter for bad employers then you chose Conservative that’s the stark choice that workers have.”
He also acknowledges that the number of women pursuing claims has fallen dramatically, with those bringing pregnancy discrimination claims down by more than a quarter in the first year fees were introduced.
“Forty years after the anti-discrimination legislation was passed, women are still losing jobs and being harassed at work when they are pregnant or have just had a baby,” said Siobhan Endean, national officer for equalities at Unite.
“This situation is exacerbated by the dramatic drop in tribunal cases for maternity discrimination since the introduction of tribunal fees.
“Women are finding it increasingly difficult to challenge such discrimination with cuts to legal advice services,” she said, adding, “the introduction of employment tribunal fees are having a devastating impact on access to justice.”
The worrying impact of tribunal fees is not perhaps an issue which alone will define the general election outcome. Yet many up and down the country will be in full agreement that, as Labour puts it, ‘Britain only succeeds when working people succeed.’