Vince Cable, the UK’s Business Secretary along with other Cabinet members of the Government and business experts have been working hard to attempt to reform the current employment law which stands in the UK. They are trying to reduce the cost to the taxpayer and business owners and make the system fairer and more effective while hoping that this will encourage small and medium sized business owners to begin taking on new employees – reducing the unemployment tariff which is currently so problematic in the UK. But are the changes fair? And what kind of effect will they have on employers and also employees.
The most recent news is that of Employment Tribunals – a decision which has left solicitors waiting for some time. The current Employment Tribunal system was deemed to be costly to both the taxpayer and businesses – and generally in need of better organisation. The Government first decided to go down the lines of using ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service as a buffer, seeing cases before the Employment Tribunal process with the hope to solve as many issues as possible through mediation, rather than costly court cases. The second step, confirmed on the 16th July continues to encourage people to find other ways of solving their problems with plans set in stone to charge those wishing to use the Employment Tribunal service – a change we will see put in action from summer 2013.
But the major question is – will this mean justice for all?
The system currently costs a total of £84 million, and one reason to introduce fees is that it should reduce the subsidy which is paid to run this service by the taxpayer. But surely the most important thing is that anyone who needs to access an Employment Tribunal is able to and the introduction of fees may well take it out of reach for a proportion of the population.
Many will be pleased to hear that the fees are less those proposed in the 2011 consultation, a mediation with a judge will cost £600, much less costly than the £1,200 fee to take a ‘level 2’ claim to court with a lesser complicated ‘level 1’ case costing £390 for a full hearing – reduced to £160 if the case is settled before it is seen in court.
Although these fees are lower than anticipated, thought needs to be given to those on a low income, their right to justice should not be compromised by a financial barrier. For this reason the same remission system will be used as the one which already exists for users paying fees to use the civil court’s services. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has issued a warning however, “It is vital working people have a fair access to justice, many of the UK’s most vulnerable workers will simply be priced out of justice” he says, “The government’s remission scheme to protect low-paid employees is woefully inadequate, and workers will be more likely to be mistreated at work as rogue bosses will be able to flout the law without fear of sanction” he warns. Others have responded, re-stating the fact that low-paid workers will be protected, but it looks like it is a case of waiting to hear more about how the government will tackle this issue.
A consultation is scheduled later this year to review the use of the exemption to pay system across the civil courts – solicitors, employers, employees and trade unions will be watching this space to see if this introduction of Employment Tribunal fees really will still guarantee access to justice for all.
Author Bio: This article has been written on behalf of Gordon Dean Solicitors, a firm of solicitors in Great Yarmouth specialising in employment law, personal injury claims and wills and probate.