Employment tribunal fees: Workers forced to 'pay for justice', says Unite

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Controversial employment tribunal fees come into force today, in one of the biggest shake-ups to employment law in recent years.

Under the new structure claimants will have to pay a fee on issue of the claim and before the hearing.

Simple claims such as unlawful deductions from wages will attract a fee of £160 for issue and £230 for the hearing. More complex claims such as unfair dismissal and discrimination will attract fees of £250 for issue and £950 for the hearing.

If the claimant doesn't send in the issue fee or an application for remission, the claim will be rejected. If the claimant fails to pay the hearing fee, the claim can be dismissed. There is no repayment if the claim settles.

Unite, the country's largest union, has called the measures "draconian". It said the fees are forcing employees to "pay for justice".

"What we are seeing today is injustice writ large as this worker-bashing Government takes a sledgehammer to workers' rights - this is a throwback to Victorian times," said Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey.

"Seeking redress for unfair dismissal and discrimination and other injustices in the workplace is a fundamental human right, but now ministers are putting up insurmountable financial hurdles for working people in pursuit of justice."

A welcome step?

The Government has said it's introducing the fees to help discourage individuals from making unjustified claims in the hope of a quick pay-off.

Richard Fox, head of employment law at law firm Kingsley Napley, said the introduction of fees should have the desired effect and be "welcomed by both employer and employee".

"The Government has vehemently denied tribunal fees are being introduced simply to put off employees from bringing a claim," said Fox.

"Instead, they maintain it is all about seeking to recoup the costs of running the employment tribunals from the litigants themselves rather than the general tax payer. I do believe the fees will act as a deterrent in some cases."

Last week, trade union group Unison lost its first-round fight against the fees. It had its written application for a judicial review on the introduction of tribunal fees rejected.

However, Unison has said it will continue its fight and has requested an oral hearing.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 186,300 claims accepted by employment tribunals in the year to March 2012. Of those, 31% were for unfair dismissal, breach of contract and redundancy.

About 27% of the 186,300 claims were withdrawn, but employers in those cases still had to pay legal fees in preparing a defence.

In 2011-12, the Employment Appeal Tribunal received 2,170 appeals.

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