Tens of thousands of people have been unable to assert their workplace rights due to the massive hike in employment tribunal fees, the Law Society has said, accusing the government of being ‘wilfully blind’ to the impact of the controversial measures.
Responding to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of tribunal fees, Chancery Lane said the ’oppressive’ fees must be removed to ensure justice is upheld for those who need it.
Society president Robert Bourns said: ’In the face of plummeting numbers of cases going to the tribunal, falling settlement rates, and thousands of people saying they could not take their cases to the tribunal due to high fees, only by being wilfully blind can the government claim there is “no evidence” that fees are stopping people enforcing their rights.’
An estimated 14,000 people per year have unsuccessfully attempted conciliation for their employment dispute but were unable to take their case to the tribunal because of fees.
Bourns said: 'With employment tribunal cases having fallen by around 70% immediately after the fees were introduced, these 14,000 people are the tip of the iceberg.
'Tens of thousands of other cases have simply disappeared from the system, to be written off by the government as somehow unmeritorious or unworthy, adding insult to injury for those whose employment rights have been ignored.’
Although justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said the current system is ‘generally working effectively and is operating lawfully’, the ministry will consult on proposals to extend support to people on low incomes.
People over 25 earning up to £1,250 a month (gross) would be exempt from fees, up from £1,085 now. There will be additional allowances for people living as couples and those with children. Fees will be remitted for certain proceedings related to payments made from the National Insurance Fund.
However, Bourns said: ’The solutions the government now proposes are little more than tinkering around the edges, which can never address the tens of thousands of individual workers effectively barred by these fees from asserting their rights.
'If the government is genuine about workers being able to defend their rights at work it must restore access to the employment tribunal. This means removing oppressive fees to ensure that justice is upheld for those who need it.’