Record numbers of working people bringing employment disputes

It seems like a strange thing to celebrate; a record number of people so unhappy about their work that they resort to the tribunal system as the only way to find a solution, but that is what the Departmant of Justice has done.

In a report published yesterday, 31 January 2017 the Department says that more than 92,000 people bought forward workplace disputes to the tribunal system in 2016 – the highest number since employment tribunal fees were introduced.

It is the bit about the figure being a record since the intoduction of fees that it seems is worth celebrating. Fees for taking a case to a Tribubal were introduced in 2013, just three years ago, as an attempt to reduce the number of ‘have a go’ claims so that employers could be saved the costs of dealing with the claim and Tribunals could focus on genuine cases, .

The Department has not compared the 2016 figure to the number of cases brought before the introduction of fees.

There is always going to be a question about the number of workplace injustices that go unchallenged because the workers affected can not afford to stand-up for their rights, but the Government claims that the introduction of tribunal fees has dramatically changed how workplace disputes are resolved.

The Government are claiming that the introduction of tribunal fees, alongside free mediation services, has dramatically changed how workplace disputes are resolved. It also claims that thousands more people will be able to access work place justice with the introduction of an extended scheme to waive fees for lowest paid workers.

That means that the monthly income threshold for full fee remission will increase from £1,085 to £1,250 – broadly the equivalent of someone earning the National Living Wage. There are additional allowances for people living as couples and those with children.

The big challenge for the Government in this area as in so many is how does it help not just those on the National Living Wage, but those people who earn just a bit more but do not have access to the financial resources to fund a claim. The people that Prime Minister Theresa May described as the ‘Just About Managing’

Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald said:

It is right that those who can afford to should contribute to the cost of Employment Tribunals, but under the extended Help with Fees scheme, more people would not pay a fee and others will contribute less than under current arrangements.

The extended scheme would benefit the disabled, women, Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals, and the young, who all feature disproportionately among low income groups.

The Government has also decided to exempt from fees a small number of proceedings related to payments made from the National Insurance Fund, as in most cases the applicant is unable to conciliate or recover fees.

While many have chosen not to bring employment tribunal claims, the review found nothing to suggest they have been prevented from doing so, and that higher numbers turning to ACAS is a “positive outcome”.

It also found:

  • in 2015/16 there were more than 92,000 workplace disputes notified to Acas – the highest number since Employment Tribunal fees were introduced
  • tribunal users are contributing up to £9 million a year in fee income, in line with expectations
  • evidence that some have found fees off-putting – even if affordable or if they may have qualified for fee waivers.

Alongside the Review the Government is also launching a consultation, which seeks to raise awareness of the Help with Fees scheme, and highlight how thousands more would qualify for help.

Ministers will bring forward further plans to improve legal support in a Green Paper by early 2018, while the Prison and Courts Bill, due to be published shortly, will make it simpler to access justice and enable thousands more people to bring cases online.

Help with making access to justice available to everyone, equally is important, but prevention is better than cure and the Government might do better to acknowledge that many employment disputes could be avoided if managers and employees understood how to make their relationship work properly. The UK still has too many unqualified managers and too many workers who have been tutored in the ‘them and us’ culture of industrial relations.

 

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