A coalition of nearly 50 organisations, including prominent names such as the TUC, Citizens Advice, and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has strongly criticised the UK government’s move to reintroduce employment tribunal fees.

Unions, legal networks, and rights organizations are collectively urging the government to reconsider its decision, expressing concerns about the potential barriers this decision poses to justice and workers’ rights.

Background: Reintroduction of Employment Tribunal Fees

The government’s decision to reintroduce employment tribunal fees has faced widespread opposition. This move comes despite the Supreme Court quashing the previous fees regime in 2017, citing its hindrance to access to justice. The joint statement from the coalition emphasizes the detrimental impact of such fees on working people, highlighting existing challenges, including a lack of awareness of employment rights, strict filing deadlines, delays in tribunal cases, and an under-resourced enforcement system.

The coalition strongly argues that reintroducing fees will create an environment conducive to the exploitation of workers. The statement suggests that the imposition of fees may discourage workers from filing legitimate claims, providing a potential advantage to unscrupulous employers who may exploit their workforce with fewer concerns about facing tribunal claims. The coalition insists that effective enforcement of employment rights is crucial, and tribunal fees could undermine this principle.

Impact on Workers Amidst Cost of Living Crisis

Expressing concerns about the current cost of living crisis, the coalition points out that requiring workers to pay additional fees when seeking recovery for wage theft, unpaid redundancy pay, or unfair dismissal exacerbates the financial challenges faced by many. The complexity of fee exemption procedures and the three-month time limit for most claims pose additional hurdles, especially during a period of rising inflation and restrained wages.

The statement highlights the disproportionate impact of tribunal fees on workers already at high risk of mistreatment, including pregnant workers, disabled workers, and migrant workers. The coalition argues that such fees could potentially price many workers out of accessing workplace justice, diminishing the effectiveness of employment laws in protecting vulnerable groups.

Call for Government Reconsideration

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak emphasized the importance of accessible justice for all working people. He noted the previous failure of tribunal fees, which led to a significant drop in claims and was subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court. Nowak urged the government to reconsider its decision, stating that employment tribunal fees grant employers a pass to exploit workers, undermining the pursuit of justice.

Rosalind Bragg, Director at Maternity Action Group, expressed concerns about the impact of fees on pregnant women and new mothers, emphasizing the potential consequences on gender equality. Bragg urged the government to reduce barriers to justice rather than increasing them, highlighting that fees would hinder the fight against maternity discrimination.