Radio 4 today reported attacks by the CBI on the number of Tribunal cases, with employers allegedly forced to settle unmeritorious cases.
The business lobby would say that, of course.
The reality for working people is very different.
Unless entitled to help from a Union, many employees will have to represent themselves at Tribunal – employers choose to enlist lawyers (and increase their costs) because represented parties tend to fare better in Tribunal than unrepresented ones.
And there is hardly equality of arms: the employer continues to trade, whilst the employee is out of work – in the current climate, possibly for months. The employer\’s legal costs are tax-deductible legal expenses; the employee is probably on benefits until new work is found. It is suggested an employer might have to pay £5000 to \”buy off\” the prospect of an expensive claim. Perspective: with average earnings about £26000p.a. are we really to be told that it\’s unreasonable to pay 2.5 months\’ salary to compensate someone who is out of work altogether?
And who is pursuing all these unmeritorious cases? The Tribunal\’s own statistics show that over 50% of unfair dismissal cases dealt with by Tribunals last year resulted in a finding in the employee\’s favour. If employers are so hard done by, despite getting it right as the CBI suggest, why are we seeing more cases than not succeed when heard by an ET? The CBI suggests that employers are forced to settle because of worries about costs; these figures suggest that in many cases, the settlement reflects some failure on the employer\’s part to deal fairly with his employees.
Case numbers have increased – but largely because of a number of \”multiple\” claims (e.g. 1000s of local authority equal pay claims, and the 30000 or so airline claims that are \”duplicates\”, but protect employees\’ positions regarding time limits) that distort the real picture. And since our individual rights have increased over the last 20 years, it would be strange if there weren\’t more claims made, to enforce them. And in the middle of the largest global recession for decades, is it surprising that numbers might be up? One HR officer told Radio 4 that these troublesome new rights had been foisted on us by Europe. What ought we to get rid of, then? New rights in the last 15 years include rights not to be discriminated against because of disability or sexual orientation or religion; a right to a minimum wage; adoption leave; better maternity rights; and rights to decent paid holidays – shall we take these away? Politicians are quick to tell us what new rights we benefit from – yet a hue and cry issues when individuals want to exercise those same rights. Rights are worthless unless there is a way to enforce them.
Employment Tribunals provide essential access to justice for working people. Let\’s not see a self-interested lobby undermine them.
Paul Scholey, Senior Partner