THE Supreme Court yesterday dealt a death blow to the Tory strategy to make it financially impossible for workers to take their employers to an Employment Tribunal.
In a landmark decision, the Court ruled that fees for those bringing employment tribunal claims were unlawful and that the government acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced them in 2013.
We have therefore had at least four years of Tory illegality! The fees imposed by the Tory-led coalition meant that a claimant had to pay an initial £250 just to register a discrimination claim of unfair dismissal, or race or sexual discrimination.
A further fee of £950 had to be paid just to secure a hearing before a tribunal, pricing tribunals far beyond the reach of low-paid workers. In the case, brought by the union Unison, the court ruled that this fee of £1,200 just to get a hearing was ‘inconsistent with access to justice’ and had resulted in a substantial fall in claims being brought.
Unison are demanding that the government must now refund all the fees, over £27 million, it has levied on claimants for the four years. Evidence produced by Unison showed that since their introduction there had been a drop of 70% in claims to tribunals, a drop that the court agreed was ‘so sharp, so substantial and so sustained’ that it demonstrated the fees could not be reasonably afforded by those on low to middle incomes.
The court held that the fees particularly hit the ‘low-value’ claims most frequently brought by the most vulnerable workers. The judges were particularly scathing about the claim by the government that higher fees would mean increased demand – an argument they ridiculed as a fundamental misunderstanding of ‘elementary economics and plain common sense’.
Of course, the pathetic argument put forward by the government was only an infantile attempt to cover up the real intention of Employment Tribunal fees, which was precisely to price even bourgeois justice beyond the reach of working people and give the employers the ability to sack workers at will, discriminate and subject their employees to every form of intimidation they could think of without any fear of being called to account.
Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said of this decision: ‘The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.
‘These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.’ Prentis pointed out: ‘We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.’
In fact, many millions of workers were deprived of their basic rights! Employment Tribunal fees were introduced by the Tories as part of their plan to turn working people into little more than slaves to the employers.
The anti-union laws were brought in to make strikes in defence of pay and conditions virtually illegal, while tribunal fees were an illegal device to close off the right of individual workers to obtain justice and protection from their employer by a legal bourgeois route.
That the Tory government is dying on its feet is obvious. Now even a bourgeois court has ruled that it has been acting illegally like some junta. It must be made to pay for this political crime. The trade unions must mobilise at once to go forward from this victory in the courts to bring the Tories down by organising an indefinite general strike to throw them out and replace them with a workers government and socialism.
A workers government will do away with the necessity for workers to go before tribunals to fight for their rights against their bosses by putting an end to criminal capitalism, by expropriating the bosses and establishing a socialist society which will guarantee the rights of every working person.