The right to challenge exploitation at work must be a cornerstone of our justice systemby Dave Prentis / July 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
Being subject to unfair treatment at work day in, day out, affects your mental and physical health. It leaves workforces demoralised and depleted, with those affected quitting for new jobs where they won’t have to deal with unscrupulous employers any longer.
But exploitation is a depressing reality for thousands of employees in Britain. That’s why access to justice is so important, and why UNISON was determined to stand up to the government to get tribunal fees scrapped. We carried on fighting to protect the rights of staff, despite earlier defeats. This was a long, difficult and expensive legal case and it’s taken almost four years to get here—but it has been worth the wait. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in our favour. Not only will tribunal fees be scrapped—a welcome result in itself—but thousands of people who have paid them over the last four years will receive a refund.
The right to challenge injustice at work and seek legal recourse is something that most of us will thankfully never need to exercise. But none of us should ever take it for granted. Access to the courts has been a cornerstone of the justice system in England since Magna Carta, which states: “We will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.” The introduction of tribunal fees threatened to undermine this.
“Fees were set as high as £1,200—more than a month’s salary for low paid employees”
When tribunal fees were introduced in 2013, they tipped the balance in favour of unscrupulous employers and away from vulnerable workers, leaving badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up. For those without the support of a union to cover the fees, justice seemed completely out of reach. The rights of many employees became in effect meaningless.
People don’t choose to go to tribunals; they go because they have to. Anyone who has been in such a situation knows just how intimidating the process can be, and the fear of being labeled a trouble-maker. Adding in the extra hurdle of fees made the whole process even more challenging for those facing ill-treatment by their bosses.