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Employment tribunal fees: high price to pay for justice?

Last month saw some sweeping changes in employment law, with the introduction of employment tribunal fees.

Many employers have welcomed the changes as they say they will stop workers from making 'weak claims', but unions have criticised the move, with one calling the fees 'draconian'.

So is this move another attack on employee rights? Or will it make the whole system a lot simpler and cheaper for everyone involved?

HR magazine asked Bronwyn McKenna (pictured), assistant general secretary of Unison, Britain's biggest trade union, for her views:

The Government introduced fees for all employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal claims on 29 July. Unison is totally opposed to these fees, which will lead to thousands of people being denied workplace justice, and has applied to the High Court to judicially review the decision of the Ministry of Justice to bring in this fees regime. There will be a hearing later this year to decide this matter.

Unison believes that the fees regime will make it virtually impossible for people with claims to exercise their rights under employment law. The fees charged per claim are likely to be greater than the expected compensation, even if the claims are successful.

Had the Government conducted a proper assessment it would have discovered that charging high fees was disproportionate to the number of claims brought by individuals and the low compensation often awarded.

A recent Ministry of Justice study said that a third of claimants had not even received their employment tribunal awards a year after judgment was given.

Spurious cases are in the minority; the current system and indeed the new tribunal rules, introduced at the same time, are set up to deal with such claims.

It would have been more sensible to wait to see if the new rules better tackled spurious claims, rather than introducing fees to penalise all claimants with meritorious claims.

There is a provision for the remission or part-remission of these fees, but this is a convoluted process that depends on tests.

The effect of the new scheme is that after the payment of fees for lodging a claim, and lawyers' fees, the claimant is left with little, if anything, by way of damages.

Regardless of the merits of a claim, these fees are likely to deter people with good claims from even bringing their claims, unless they are supported by Unison and unions like us that are committed to paying these fees.