A return to justice: thanks to UNISON

New data shows employment tribunals are on the rise again – thanks to our Supreme Court victory

Last year UNISON won a court case against the government over employment tribunal fees.

These fees were brought in on 29 July 2013 and they meant that overnight anyone who had a problem at work – who felt they had been unfairly dismissed, for example, or faced discrimination at work – who wanted access to justice, suddenly had to pay a hefty fee to access it. Their claim form would not even be looked at unless it included a cheque or was submitted online with a card payment.

The fees started at around £160 for a type A claim, such as wage claims or breach of contract, and £250 for a type B claim, covering issues such as unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination.

There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.

Employment tribunals play a vital role in workers’ rights. They are a forum where workers (and employers) can seek justice, adjudicated by a legal expert – an employment judge.

Most of our hard-won workers’ rights – which have been fought for by trade unionists and others over centuries – are effective only because they can be enforced through employment tribunals and employment tribunal appeals.

UNISON’s argument in court was that the introduction of employment tribunal fees was unlawful because the fees interfered unjustifiably with the right of access to justice under both the common law and EU law.

We also argued that the fees frustrated the operation of Parliamentary legislation granting employment rights, and discriminated unlawfully against women and other groups. One of the ways we proved this was the data that showed less and less people taking out claims.

We won the case on 1 August 2017, with the judges agreeing that the fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others.”

And now new data is out for the number of employment claims since for the months after employment tribunal fees were scrapped, and we’re pleased to see that it shows the number of cases going back up.

Looking at quarter 3 in 2016 compared to quarter 3 in 2017, there has been a 64% rise in cases. It’s looking like a return to justice.