In a widely reported speech made on 20 January, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has launched a vigorous attack on what he has called "chequebook justice" as a result of the government’s plans to introduce fees for employment tribunal proceedings.
Under the proposals claimants will have to pay an initial fee on commencement of proceedings of between £150 and £250. There will be an additional fee of £250 to £1250 if the matter goes to a hearing with a potential award of over £30,000, or £200 to £600 if compensation is limited to a maximum £30,000. Fees for discrimination claims will be as much as £1750. Many have commented that expecting people who have just lost their jobs to pay fees in order to pursue claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination is rather perverse. On the other hand, according to Department of Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly, the latest figures show that the employment tribunals service costs the taxpayer £84 million per annum.
Speaking at the Discrimination Law in 2012 conference in London Mr Barber said:
"The coalition’s cuts are having a devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.
"Ministers are pursuing a deregulatory agenda, dismissing vital rights as red tape and so-called burdens on business. While the government pays lip service to equality, some of its actions threaten to make Britain less equal, less fair and much less just.
"That’s why our priorities over the coming year must be to defend legal rights and access to justice, and why we must resist draconian government plans to charge people for using employment tribunals.
"For the first time individuals will have to pay as much as £1,750 to have a discrimination or equal pay claim heard by an employment tribunal – among the highest fees to be charged under the proposed system.
"This is chequebook justice pure and simple and is a profoundly regressive step. As so few discrimination claims succeed at tribunal anyway, many potential claimants, particularly those who lack the support of a union, would be put off from making a claim, giving a green light to unscrupulous employers to discriminate at will. That’s something that ought to concern everyone who cares about justice, fairness and equality."