Employment tribunal fees unlawful, Supreme Court rules

Fees for workers bringing employment tribunal claims have been ruled unlawful, and the government will now have to repay up to £32m to claimants.

This was a tremendous victory for UNISON and UNISON members. We were the only trade union to pursue this matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Coalition Government introduced fees in 2013, it said to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases, but that led to a 79% reduction in cases over three years. In addition, the proportion of successful employment tribunal claims actually fell by 3% – showing fees had no impact on the levels of so-called vexatious cases.

UNISON argued that the fees prevented workers getting access to justice. The Supreme Court also found fees were indirectly discriminatory to women.

It ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“This is absolutely a tremendous victory, it’s probably the biggest victory of employment rights in this country.”

Fees ranged between £390 and £1,200 to get a case heard at a hearing. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time hearings took.

The Supreme Court found this was indirectly discriminatory because a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases.

Of course, during the period fees applied UNISON members had these covered by their trade union. But fees clearly disincentivised workers from ever seeking justice and allowed unscrupulous bosses to get away with injustices ranging from discrimination to under-payment of wages.

The ruling is a great one for the rights of ordinary working people and a serious hammer blow to the Coalition Government and now the Conservative Government that put this illegal and pernicious policy at the heart of its employment rights agenda.