“A win for all workers” – unions react to UNISON tribunal fees win
Unions have welcomed yesterday’s landmark ruling that the introduction of fees for Employment Tribunals were unlawful.
The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – yesterday nanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.
From now on, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.
The Supreme Court ruling, after a challenge from UNISON, also means the government must repay as much as £32m to people who paid for tribunals.
UNISON chief executive Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.
“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.”
Thompsons Solicitors chief executive Stephen Cavalier said: “We congratulate our colleagues at UNISON on their fantastic victory. By calling time on the always immoral and now proved to be illegal employment tribunal fees, UNISON has struck a blow for workers everywhere
“By introducing employment tribunal fees, the then Coalition government sought to put a tax on justice for workers. Many workers were priced out of enforcing their legal rights. The present government should not seek to reintroduce employment tribunal fees and we call for cross-party support to oppose any move to do so – including from the Liberal Democrats who shared responsibility for introducing the fees, and the DUP as workers in Northern Ireland have never been subject to employment tribunal fees.”
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.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is an historic victory. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Conservative government was wrong to deny working people access to employment justice. The Tories’ decision to charge workers more than many earn in a month to be able to pursue an employment tribunal has been a gift to bad bosses.
“Unite has stood by our members and covered their tribunal costs ensuring that they can get a hearing but it was an appalling decision by the Tories to say that a worker’s access to justice was dependent on the size of their wallet.
“We congratulate UNISON on this victory because this will now restore some balance to the workplace.
“However, workers will not forget that this case was only made necessary because the Tory-led government turned its back on workers. The Conservative government is, for sure, no friend of working people.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is a major victory for trade unions and the people we represent and the case once again exposes the extent to which the Tories treat workers with contempt. We will be taking immediate legal advice about seeking redress for our members who were affected by this.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “UNISON must be congratulated on this landmark victory which is fantastic news for workers everywhere and will strengthen their hands in future fights for justice.
“The huge drop in people making claims was because the government was pricing people out of seeking justice. It was a pernicious move and a reminder of where this government stands when it comes to workers’ rights. We will be watching with interest how Theresa May and her ministers respond to this ruling.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “The Supreme Court decision on employment tribunal fees is a victory for common sense and the basic right of working people to access justice in our legal system. Rights are no rights at all if you can’t afford to enforce them.”
RCM Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications Jon Skewes said: “The RCM would like to congratulate UNISON on such an important victory. Workplace tribunal fees denied justice to workers who had been mistreated in the workplace and they were plainly unfair and unjust.
“The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 was a disgraceful and cynical move to price ordinary people out of exercising their rights and effectively giving a free pass to bad bosses. The ruling is not only a victory for all workers, but shows once again that trade unions are a force for good.”
Scottish TUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “This landmark victory will ensure that access to employment justice is returned to thousands of workers and that those who were forced to pay for cases will now be reimbursed. It is a disgrace that many, many other workers have been denied justice over the past four years because fees dissuaded them from taking cases.
“The success also proves how vital it is to be part of the collective trade union movement. It is only because Unison was able to pool the resources of its membership to challenge this ruling that workers everywhere will benefit.
“The Scottish government has been pledged to remove employment tribunal fees as soon as the operation of the Employment Tribunal is devolved to Scotland. We are grateful for their support, which we actively lobbied to achieve, and now look forward to agreeing a new tribunal landscape for Scotland free from the blight of ET fees.”
USDAW general secretary John Hannett said: “This is a major victory for working people who should now be able to access justice free of charge for Employment Tribunals and not face the prospect of paying up to £1,200 in upfront fees to lodge a case.
“We have always argued that money should not be a determining factor in being able to access justice because it hits low paid working people the hardest. We now call on the government to act swiftly and scrap Tribunal Fees and reimburse everyone who has had to pay them.
“We also call on the government to drop any proposals for increasing the Smalls Claims Limit from the current £1,000. Before the recent General Election the government was proposing to double the Small Claims Limit for personal injury cases and to force people to take up their own workplace injury cases where compensation was likely to be below £2,000 through the Small Claims Court. This again is restricting access to justice for low paid working people as anyone taking a case would be potentially liable for their costs.”
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