THE SUPREME Court ruling on Wednesday that the Tory-LibDem introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 was illegal is a shattering blow to the Tory government.
By Wednesday afternoon Tory Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, responded that the government would cease taking fees for employment tribunals ‘immediately’ and begin the process of reimbursing claimants, dating back to 2013. He said it would fall to the taxpayer to pick up the bill. The Supreme Court ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees.
The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government for its misunderstanding of ‘elementary economics, and plain common sense’, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand. The judges also said fees were set so high, it ‘has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others’.
The fees put off more genuine cases than the so-called ‘vexatious’ claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter, said the judges. The court said the fall in claims when fees came in was ‘so sharp, so substantial and so sustained’ that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes and that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.
Following the introduction of the £1,200 fees the number of claims dropped by 79%. Employment tribunal fees are reported to have raised over £32m since being introduced. Following the ruling, Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees.’
‘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. The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.
‘It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. Unison took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand. 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. 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.’
Commenting on the Supreme Court ruling, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This is a major victory for trade unions and the people we represent and the case once again exposes the extent to which the Tories treat workers with contempt. We will be taking immediate legal advice about seeking redress for our members who were affected by this.’
Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, said: ‘The Supreme Court decision on employment tribunal fees is a victory for common sense and the basic right of working people to access justice in our legal system. Rights are no rights at all if you can’t afford to enforce them.’
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘This is an historic victory. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Conservative government was wrong to deny working people access to employment justice.
‘The Tories’ decision to charge workers more than many earn in a month to be able to pursue an employment tribunal has been a gift to bad bosses. Unite has stood by our members and covered their tribunal costs ensuring that they can get a hearing but it was an appalling decision by the Tories to say that a worker’s access to justice was dependent on the size of their wallet.
‘We congratulate Unison on this victory today because this will now restore some balance to the workplace. However, workers will not forget that this case was only made necessary because the Tory-led government turned its back on workers. The Conservative government is, for sure, no friend of working people.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘This is a brilliant and ground breaking victory for every worker in Britain and RMT salutes Unison for its determined efforts in this case on behalf of the entire British working class. The result proves conclusively that the only chance workers have of defending themselves against bad bosses is through their trade unions. The victory today is a massive boost for the whole trade union movement as we fight against the tidal wave of attacks on workplaces the length and breadth of Britain.’
University and College Union (UCU) UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Unison must be congratulated on this landmark victory which is fantastic news for workers everywhere and will strengthen their hands in future fights for justice. The huge drop in people making claims was because the government was pricing people out of seeking justice.
‘It was a pernicious move and a reminder of where this government stands when it comes to workers’ rights. We will be watching with interest how Theresa May and her ministers respond to this ruling.’
Royal College of Midwives Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications said: ‘The RCM would like to congratulate Unison on such an important victory. Workplace tribunal fees denied justice to workers who had been mistreated in the workplace and they were plainly unfair and unjust.
‘The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 was a disgraceful and cynical move to price ordinary people out of exercising their rights and effectively giving a free pass to bad bosses. Today’s ruling is not only a victory for all workers, but shows once again that trade unions are a force for good.’
TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: ‘This is a massive win for working people.
‘Congratulations to Unison for doggedly pursuing this case. Today’s result shows the value of working people standing together in trade unions.
‘Too many low-paid workers couldn’t afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they’ve faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly. Tribunal fees have been a bonanza for bad bosses, giving them free rein to mistreat staff. Any fees paid so far should be refunded as soon as possible.’
‘Tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013, and can run up to £1,200 per case. The most common reasons for employment tribunal cases include unfair dismissal, holiday pay, and sex discrimination. Official statistics show that the number of cases taken by workers has dropped by over 70% since the fees were introduced.
‘TUC research shows that this fall was especially high in cases involving part-time work rules (-83%), sexual orientation discrimination (-75%), and unauthorised deductions from wages (-78%)’.
The Tory response to the court ruling revealed their demoralisation, with pledges that all of the fees that workers had to pay would be returned. This response was matched by the trade union leaders who, far from calling action to bring down this dead dog of a Tory government, clearly intend to leave it in place to continue with its programme of austerity, privatisation, cuts and closures, while the TUC plead with it to change its ways.
The working class will be hopping mad after the Tories have been found guilty of pushing through illegal measures against the workers. The TUC General Council must be recalled to discuss the Tory crisis and to add to it by calling a general strike to bring the Tories down and bring in a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies.
The TUC leadership cannot be allowed to look the other way and to allow the Tories to grimly hang on to continue with their anti-working class austerity policies, and to use their anti-union laws to ban strikes.
Recall the TUC General Council at once to call a general strike to bring down the Tories.
Forward to a Workers Government and socialism!