Congratulations are due to the trade union Unison, which has convinced the Supreme Court to rule that employment tribunal fees introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2013 were unlawful and discriminated against women and the poor.
The minority Conservative government will now have to repay £32 million to people who have been forced to pay the fees over the last four years.
Where will it find the cash? On the magic money tree? Or will benefit claimants be penalised again? You can be sure the Tories will find a way to use this against us and we must be vigilant to find out how.
This Site has long opposed the imposition of the fees. In 2013 I argued that they, along with plans to make it “tougher” for judicial reviews to be brought to court, were part of a plan to make it impossible for anyone to mount legal opposition against unreasonable Conservative/Coalition policies.
The government had changed the rules on Legal Aid to make it impossible to claim it for benefit-related and employment cases, and the changes to judicial reviews meant the only people able to bring them against government policy would be individuals who were directly affected and could not afford the cost.
With employment tribunals, the coalition government had introduced fees, meaning it would cost £160 to lodge a claim for matters such as unpaid invoices, with a further charge of £230 if it went ahead. More serious claims, such as for unfair dismissal, would cost £250 to lodge, and a further £950 if the case goes ahead.
Here’s what the imposition of these fees did to the number of cases being sent to tribunal:
That is what a 79 per cent drop looks like.
As I wrote at the time, “The plan here is clearly to make it impossible for an unfairly-sacked worker to take a firm to judicial review; how many poorly-paid working class people (and remember, wages have fallen by nine per cent since the credit crunch) have twelve hundred quid knocking around in their back pockets?”
(Wages have fallen again since this was written, and are now more than 10 per cent lower than before the financial crisis).
Unison is to be praised for staying the course, also. In December 2014 the Divisional Court dismissed its legal challenge, but gave it leave to take the case to the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Elias ruled that, while he accepted the 79 per cent drop in claims was evidence that the system was “extremely onerous” for people in the position of the hypothetical claimants construed by Unison in their legal argument, it was “not so burdensome as to render the right illusory”.
Today’s result appears to render that opinion void. It was an illusion as far as most working people were concerned.
Here’s how the BBC has reported it:
The Supreme Court also found fees were indirectly discriminatory to women.
It ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees.
Fees ranged between £390 and £1,200 to get a case heard at a hearing. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time hearings took.
The Supreme Court found this was indirectly discriminatory because a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases.
It also said that some people would not bring cases to employment tribunals because paying the fees would render any financial reward pointless.
The court’s summary added claimants in low or middle income household could not afford the fees “without sacrificing ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time”.
In another BBC report (on television) it was pointed out that the imposition of tribunal fees meant the government was encouraging companies that abused their employees’ rights.
This in turn, of course, sets a bad example for companies that don’t.
The policy embedded corruption into the employment system.
So we should be glad that justice has been done.
Of course, the fact that a Conservative government thought such an unfair and discriminatory scheme should be imposed in the first place is a damning indictment –
Wasn’t their whole election campaign based on a claim that the Tories were the party of “fairness”?
– and this ruling should be used as another lever to push the Tories out of government.
Will that happen, though?
Would any Opposition politicians care to speak up and demand answers? This is a perfect opportunity to interrupt the minority prime minister’s walking holiday.
Why should she get to relax in foreign parts after having caused so much trouble for working people back home?
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