Monday, July 23, 2012

Can You Put a Price On Justice?

Well it seems as though the Government is intent on doing so!

Not for themselves and for their very wealthy friends who are content to count (or bathe in) their money, happy in the knowledge that when they get caught they will, miraculously, suffer from collective amnesia you understand, but the price of justice for you, me and tens of thousands of people like us seems to be about to be set at £1200.

This is the message from the recently published Government response to consultation on the introduction of, "up-front," fees in Employment Tribunal cases

What this sets out is simply this - that from some point during late 2013 a new, "two-tier," fee structure will be introduced for those working people wanting to take a case to ET. For claims (including Unfair Dismissal and Discrimination) an initial fee of £250 will be payable just to submit a claim followed by a further payment of £950 to go to a hearing. So, a grand total of £1200, just to secure a shot at securing any kind of justice!

True, your employer may have to foot the bill for this if you win (on top of any compensation awarded) but you still have to find this money in advance of being allowed to proceed.

In some cases the fees are lower - a claim for, "Unauthorised Deductions from Wages," for example will cost £160 to submit and a further £230 to face a hearing. This is peanuts to many employers (and to Cameron's, "Millionaires Boys Club," Cabinet) but to many workers this will hugely restrict any access to justice they might once have enjoyed.

The TUC has, of course, condemned this move and other trade unions have mounted a powerful argument against these proposals only to be ignored by government.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, opposing these changes and the impact on combating discrimination in the workplace argued that,

  • "The Commission believes that requiring payment of a fee to bring a discrimination claim may breach the principle of effectiveness as it will make it difficult for individuals to enforce their EU law rights. We do not believe that the measures...will ensure that no one is denied access to justice through the introduction of a fee."
What this is is a transparent and naked attempt, by a government hostile to workers rights and to the limited protections afforded to working people, to discourage claims being brought to law and to give even greater freedom to bad employers to exploit their employees. Highly paid lobbyists and professional whingers acting on the behalf of employers (the CBI and Institute of Directors) continue to complain that it is too easy for workers to pursue misconceived claims, but as anyone who has ever tried it knows the truth is it's already tough to get justice.

Trade Unions need to ensure that commitments are given that would see a future Labour government repeal these changes and to begin now to put in place arrangements for determining who should pay these costs. We can not afford to wait and our members deserve clarity - justice is hard enough to come by without doors being slammed in their faces when their time of need is at it's greatest.