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How working people are priced out of justice

From Hannah Reed's Touchstone blog:

Since July 2013, many workers who have been sexually harassed, sacked because of their race, or bullied because of their sexuality have been forced to pay an eye-watering £1,200 for their claim to be heard by an employment tribunal.

The TUC predicted that such excessive fees would price workers out of justice and deter genuine victims from making claims. The massive fall in employment tribunal claims reported last week confirm the accuracy of this forecast. Provisional statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reveal the number of employment tribunal claims has fallen by a massive 79 per cent. Between October and December 2013, only 9,801 claims were made to employment tribunals, as compared with 45,710 for the same quarter in 2012.

Women are among the biggest losers, with the MoJ statistics showing a sharp fall in claims for sex discrimination, pregnancy related dismissal and equal treatment for part-time workers.

Regrettably such an outcome was highly predictable. Women are more likely to work part-time in lower paid jobs and are therefore less able to afford high level fees. Many women also lose out on fee remissions due to their partner’s earnings. This is because eligibility for fee remission is calculated on the basis of household rather than individual income. This approach mistakenly assumes that in most households resources are pooled and shared. It also means that in many households women need to seek the agreement of their partner before taking their employer to a tribunal.

Women have also been penalised by tighter restrictions on eligibility for fee remissions introduced in October 2013. These changes mean that households with savings of £3,000 or more are no longer entitled to any remission. As a result, many women are forced to make the unenviable choice between using up family savings put aside for family holidays, school uniforms or university fees or putting up with discrimination at work.

But women are not the only group affected by the introduction of fees. The MoJ’s statistics also reveal a serious drop in discrimination claims based on age, disability, sexual orientation and race.

Percentage fall in tribunal claims by type of claim

Type of claim Fall in claims
Sex discrimination 77%
Disability 58%
Race 57%
Sexual orientation 75%
Age 63%
Religion and belief 60%
Pregnancy related dismissal 59%
Equal treatment rights for part-time workers 79%

The statistics also reveal a marked decline in claims for unpaid wages (down by 68 per cent). These often involve low value claims brought by low paid workers. According to TUC analysis of the 2008 Survey of Employment Tribunal Applicants, 51 per cent of individuals complaining about the non-payment of wages earn less than 20,000 a year. Many workers, who are already out of pocket due to the actions of their employers, simply cannot afford to pay £390 in tribunal fees.

The government has always claimed that their remission scheme will ensure that those who cannot afford fees can still access justice. However, research commissioned by the TUC revealed that more than a third of UK households (36 per cent) with one or more workers earning the national minimum wage will not be entitled to any fee remission but will have to pay £390 for their claim for unpaid wages to be heard. 22 per cent of such households will have to pay the full £1,200 for an unfair dismissal or discrimination claim to be heard.

What is clear from the figures is that the introduction of employment fees is stifling access to justice and means that increasingly employers can break the law with impunity. These developments can only entrench inequality and mean that workers are more vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination in the workplace.

They also highlight why workers should join a union. While there has been a big fall is in cases brought by individuals, unions are still supporting members who have been treated badly and need to seek justice.

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