From today, no one will have to pay to challenge mistreatment by bosses after a long battle by unions.
Unions are hailing a ‘victory for everyone in work’ today after the Supreme Court ruled tribunal fees are illegal.
The UK’s highest court unanimously ruled this morning that the Conservative government acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the costs to workers challenging misconduct by their employers in July 2013.
The legal challenge by Unison – one of the UK’s largest trade unions – means that from today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay the fees of up to £1,200 to take their employers to court.
The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals, and applies to anyone in England, Scotland and Wales.
It is a major embarrassment for the legacy of Chris Grayling, the then Lord Chancellor who brought in the charges.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the move showed the ‘government is not above the law’:
“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.
“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.
“These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.
“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”
Official statistics show that the number of cases taken by workers has dropped by nearly 70% since the fees were introduced, with TUC research showing the fall was especially high in cases involving part-time work rules (-83%), sexual orientation discrimination (-75%), and unauthorised deductions from wages (-78%).
While trade unions often pay the fees for their members, the figures indicate that many workers simply cannot afford to take a case.
In considering the decision, the seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.
The judges also said fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and also put off more genuine cases, than the so-called vexatious claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“This is a massive win for working people. Congratulations to UNISON for doggedly pursuing this case. Today’s result shows the value of working people standing together in trade unions.
“Too many low-paid workers couldn’t afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they’ve faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly.
“Tribunal fees have been a bonanza for bad bosses, giving them free rein to mistreat staff. Any fees paid so far should be refunded as soon as possible.”
The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees, with the challenge backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
See our coverage of the case yesterday: ‘Is the Supreme Court about to rule tribunal fees are illegal?’ and read the Court’s final judgement here.
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