The price of Justice - £1,200

The 29th July saw fees introduced into the Employment Tribunal (ET) and Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).The new structure involves payment of an issue fee when the claim is submitted and a hearing fee which would be paid prior to the full merits hearing. This is a response to employer lobbying for the Government to 'do something' to reduce the number of cases going to the Tribunals. Some might argue that treating employees better might be the most productive starting point but no, they would rather make it much more difficult for those who have been sacked, or discriminated against to have their case heard.

Sometimes things go wrong at work and there is a dispute between an employee and their employer. If there is a recognised union the chances are that the matter will be resolved with union help and no need for litigation. There are far fewer Employment Tribunal cases involving unionised workplaces. Where there is no union it may be harder to have the matter resolved at work, and certainly if the employee has been dismissed it is too late.

The next stage is to go to Employment Tribunal, or to seek an out of court settlement. This is where ACAS comes into its own, with an automatic offer to intervene and provide conciliation. This often resolves the matter, or at least allows the employee to be compensated when they have been badly treated. If not, then it has to be an Employment Tribunal. Very few employees actually want to go to Tribunal, but if that is what it takes, then they have a right to do so.

However, it will now cost someone £1,200 if they want to take their employer to an employment tribunal. The fees are part of a wider systematic campaign by the government to erode workers' basic rights and as a result prevent bad bosses from being held to account. Other measures introduced include 'settlement agreements' that make it easier and cheaper for an employer to get rid of someone.

Introducing a charge is an unacceptable obstacle to accessing justice. It will hit the low paid and the unemployed particularly hard. Even if there were to be a waiver for unemployed claimants the business lobby is also demanding a much more aggressive costs regimen to frighten unrepresented employees away.

The government has already raised the qualifying period for an employee to make an unfair dismissal claim to two years. This means that nearly three million employees can be sacked on a whim if they have been employed for less than that time. And for most of the 1 million (and growing) workers on zero hours contracts, even if they'd been 'employed' more than 2 years they still wouldn't be eligible to go to Employment Tribunal, even if they could afford the eye-watering fees.

The only achievement of introducing such practices will be to price vulnerable people out of justice.

Beth Farhat, Regional Secretary, Northern TUC

Briefing document (500 words) issued 2 Sep 2013