TUC warns against changes to employment tribunals

Any major changes to the employment tribunal system could stop employees who have been wronged at work from seeking justice, and give the green light to rogue employers to break the law, the TUC warns ahead of an expected government announcement on reforms.

Any major changes to the employment tribunal system could stop employees who have been wronged at work from seeking justice, and give the green light to rogue employers to break the law, the TUC warns ahead of an expected government announcement on reforms.

The TUC says employers have been lobbying hard for ministers to change the tribunal system, but the TUC says they should instead be working harder at treating their staff well, improving their employment practices, and ensuring they stay within the law.

The TUC says it is worried that employer calls for an increase in the qualifying period in which workers can claim unfair dismissal from one to two years would prevent thousands of wronged employees from challenging their employers, and allow companies to sack staff at whim.

Another proposal being mooted is to make people pay a fee of up to £500 before they can go to a tribunal to stop people bringing weak claims. The TUC says this would deter many employees with genuine cases, especially low paid individuals who have just lost their jobs and no longer have a salary to rely upon.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "At the heart of any change to the tribunal system has to be the desire to make it more effective at delivering justice to the thousands of people who every year are wronged at work.

"While employer groups complain that tribunals are costing them too much, they seem to have lost sight of the fact that if firms treated their staff as they are meant to, few would ever find themselves taken to court.

"Instead of a focus on the employment tribunal process, ministers’ time would be better spent looking at why so many companies, especially small employers, have such poor employment practices.

"When things go wrong at work, it’s better for everyone concerned that the problem is resolved within the workplace, which is why mediation and the assistance provided by unions and ACAS is so invaluable. It’s no accident that employers who work with unions are much less likely to find themselves in front of a tribunal than firms where there are no unions.

"The government should stand firm in the face of the intense employer lobbying seen in recent weeks and leave employment tribunals to continue holding rogue employers to account and delivering justice for all workers who have been discriminated against or treated unfairly."

The TUC says that a number of the claims being put forward by employer groups are misleading: – Employers say the numbers of claims are increasing, but the TUC says the vast majority of the 236,000 cases taken last year were multiple claims covering large groups of workers, often in disputes over working time or equal pay. The number of claims made by individual employees is still low, it states.

– Employment tribunals already have the power to require deposits from individuals taking cases, and judges regularly issue costs orders and strike out claims they see as ‘vexatious or misconceived’. The tribunal system is based on the principle that employees should not be deterred from bringing cases through fear of large costs should they lose, says the TUC.

– Raising the qualifying period for workers who believe they have been unfairly dismissed would deter many genuinely wronged individuals from seeking justice, claims the TUC. Having such a reason stated for dismissal can seriously impair the person’s ability to find future work, can reduce their earning potential, and irreparably damage their careers.

The TUC adds that "it is a myth that workers use the employment tribunal system in a vexatious manner". "It is widely recognised that bringing a tribunal claim can be a highly stressful and time-consuming experience, and as a result many individuals decide not to enforce their rights and take their employers to court," it states.

Meanwhile, John Philpott of the CIPD warns: "It would be particularly inadvisable for the government to introduce a so-called ’employers’ charter’ enabling employers to dismiss workers within two years of being hired rather than one year at present. Such a move would do nothing for jobs in the short-run against a backdrop of weak economic growth and would at best have only a limited impact on the economy’s underlying job creation potential.

"Evidence on the effects of employment protection legislation is equivocal, but on balance suggests that while less protection encourages increased hiring during economic recoveries it also results in increased firing during downturns. The overall effect is thus simply to make employment less stable over the economic cycle. It is arguable that had a policy akin to the ’employers’ charter’ been in place during the recent recession there would have been more redundancies in a manner akin to what occurred in the 1990s recession. Such an outcome would have been detrimental to fostering a culture of genuine engagement and trust between employers and their staff, and potentially harmful to the long-run performance of UK plc."

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