Today, a new service has launched to advise claimants seeking to take their employer to tribunal. The need for the free helpline has been realised as a result of a 165% rise in claims since 2017, when fees on employment tribunals were abolished.
The service, launched by UNU Group, hopes to utilise the expert knowledge of its founding members to offer free, impartial advice to claimants, as well as providing access to a wider network of legal firms to give continued support where necessary.
UNU Group Director Nigel Allen said:
“We know it can seem daunting to open an employment tribunal claim, especially if it’s against a larger company, and many people simply don’t know where to start, so sadly they are left suffering in silence.
“Abolishing fees was a huge step in making the process fairer for everyone, and we wanted to mirror that by offering our services without any cost implication. Hopefully, we can offer anyone who has a claim the confidence to seek compensation.”
But with the UK ranking 10th in the world for employee satisfaction, is employment tribunal law a priority for a country already doing so well?
A lifeline thrown or a floodgate open
The increased workload from extra cases is already taking its toll on the court service, so the launch of a helpline giving people easier access to information and potentially rise to more claims could be causing alarm bells at Westminster.
When the Coalition Government introduced fees of up to £1200 for employment tribunals in 2013, they did so citing the need to “reduce the number of weak or vexatious cases”.
Between 2013 and 2018, staff numbers at HM Courts and Tribunal Service dropped 17%, from 19,200 to 15,990. At the same time budgets fell from £41.2m to £38.5m.
In 2017, employment tribunal fees were ruled illegal and the High Court ordered them to be abolished, leaving the diminished HM Courts and Tribunal Service workforce with a huge uplift in workload.
Part of why the UNU helpline has launched is to advise complainants on when they have a viable case – reducing the number of unfounded cases and easing the burden on the courts service, but there’s an underlying problem here.
The price of justice
With a number of high profile cases being bandied about in the news in the past few months, employment tribunals are more in the spotlight than ever. Workplace discrimination is a massive topic globally, and the UK must take steps not just to keep pace with the conversation, but to lead by example on protecting its citizens from poor treatment by employees.
Studies like “Happiness and Productivity”, carried out by the University of Warwick in 2015, or “Employee satisfaction and Corporate Performance in the UK”, by the University of East Anglia in 2018, show a clear link between employee wellbeing and productivity. With strong scientific evidence of the benefits, as well as it being the undeniable right thing to do, it’s clear that these are the areas to focus on to maintain and build on the UK’s good rankings in the international table of employee satisfaction.
With so many cases being brought to tribunal, however, there’s a clear disconnect between employees and employers. The rumours surrounding a plan to reintroduce these fees show that the current government has priorities that aren’t centred around the benefits of empowered employees.
The potential reintroduction of fees is best rebutted by Andrew Walker QC, Chairman of the Bar Council. He said: “People in need of justice have enough hurdles to overcome already. Justice is not a service bought by individuals for their private benefit, nor should it be treated in this way.”
Employment, empowerment and emblems
The fact that a private company has launched a free public service tool, while commendable from the UNU Group, is papering over the cracks – cracks left by a government who are persisting on a path that will put a vital protection out of reach for the UK workers who need it most.
At Fusion People, we will always value the empowerment of employees to speak up when they are being failed by their employer. This promotes a fairer workplace, leading to happier employees and the associated productivity perks mentioned above.
The cutting of funds amidst the reduction of cases being brought paints the picture of a government trying to cut costs, but saving money in this way will have a knock-on effect that is much costlier to the UK economy.
A strong employee tribunal system is not the enemy of our favourable reputation as a country with high employee satisfaction or a threat to increased productivity, it is the cause of these things. The lack of tribunal fees is emblematic of the fact that businesses in the UK are held to the same high standard for everyone that they employ – one that we’ll always be glad to meet.