Claims made to the UK employment tribunals or Employment Appeal Tribunal ('the UK Tribunals') after 29 July 2013 will now attract fees. However, this has caused such a stir that on the same day the fees were implemented, Britain's biggest trade union, Unison, was granted the right to challenge them.
Under the new fee regime, an individual employee or their trade union representative (if the employee is supported by a trade union), will need to pay a fee of between £160 and £250 to submit an employment claim (depending on the complexity of the issues). A further fee of either £230 or £950 is required to proceed to a hearing. The UK Tribunals have justified the introduction of fees on the basis that users of the system, who can afford to pay, should contribute to its running cost. Given that no fees were payable previously, the reception has generally been, putting it politely, frosty.
The idea of tribunal fees is not new. The subject has been debated at length and, in Jersey, has been addressed by the Employment Forum in 2010 where proposals were made to try and provide a balance between deterring genuinely vexatious tribunal claims (claims without any merit), whilst not deterring genuine claims. Therein lies the conundrum, are tribunal fees a proportionate mechanism towards ensuring that only genuine claims are progressed, or do they provide an unwelcome financial barrier to those who simply want to enforce their employment law rights?
In Jersey and Guernsey, it is currently free for a claimant to submit a claim to the employment tribunal. However, in the event the claim is found to be without merit, the successful party is unable to recover any legal costs it may have paid dealing with the action. It follows that, for the time being, there is no obvious deterrent to vexatious claimants simply trying their luck in the hope of receiving a settlement sum by way of a nuisance payment. Would the introduction of employment tribunal fees be a welcome deterrent to those looking to take advantage of the system? In this author's view, quite possibly.
However, in contrast, should employees be required to pay a fee simply to be afforded an opportunity to enforce their employment rights? Mr Predergast, of trade union, GMB, clearly doesn't think so:
"The imposition of such fees represents the latest in number of attacks on employment rights by the Government. Bad employers are being given the green light to continue exploiting their staff. The charging of £1,200 effectively means that many workers will lose any change they had to seek redress if they are poorly treated".
Having regard for the current commentary on the issue, it appears that Mr Predergast's view is shared by many. It is worth pointing out that the UK Tribunals will have the power to order the unsuccessful party to reimburse the fees paid by the successful party, but that does not surmount the issue of having to pay the amount initially.
We await further UK development with interest, and note that, at the time of writing, employment tribunal fees will need to be paid at least until Unison makes its case for their review in October 2013.
This battle is, of course, being waged over seas and Channel Islanders are unlikely to feel the waves arising from the introduction of UK tribunal fees for the foreseeable. However, there can be little doubt that their introduction will spark fresh debate, and, ultimately beg the question as to whether or not we are going to once more follow the UK's lead?
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