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EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL FEES and CONCILIATION

Whist the Employment Tribunals and Courts in general have tried to introduce voluntary conciliation or arbitration to settle matters so as to reduce the pressure on the Court and Tribunal system, as of 6th May 2014 all potential Employment Tribunal Claims will be subject to the mandatory conciliation service provided by ACAS. An online service is available for claimants but they can also notify ACAS  by post or telephone. There is then a period of one month when ACAS can attempt to negotiate settlement of the claim between the employer and the employee with a possible extension of 14 days if there is realistic prospect of reaching settlement terms. If conciliation fails ACAS will issue an Early Conciliation Certificate and the Claimant is free to present his claim to the Tribunal. A claim cannot be submitted without the Certificate Number.  

Remember though that generally you only have three months in which to bring a Tribunal claim. The clock is temporarily stopped when ACAS receives the conciliation form and will resume again once the certificate has been issued if conciliation fails.  

INTRODUCTION OF TRIBUNAL FEES IS STILL A CONTRAVERSIAL ISSUE

A fee structure for Employment Tribunal claims was introduced somewhat controversially in July 2013 and still attracts much press.  

The government attempted to justify the introduction of fees to bring the Tribunal system in line with the County Court system which they claim has become self-financing over the last few years.

UNISON applied to the High Court for permission for a Judicial Review against the introduction of fees on the basis that it was denying Claimant’s access to justice. The High Court appeared to accept all the union’s arguments about the likely impact of the fees on barring access to justice for workers treated unfairly by employers. However, as the fees were only introduced in July last year, the court felt a decision could not be made now, before the full impact could be judged. The High Court firmly expects the government to keep this issue under review and to revoke or amend the scheme if UNISON’s arguments are borne out.  

Clearly this is the case for the Claimant but what of the case for the Respondent/Employer? Last week in The Telegraph, the Enterprise Minister, Matthew Hancock, hailed the 79% drop in employment tribunal claims as demonstrating the ending of the tribunal system from being "ruthlessly exploited by people seeking to make a fast buck”. His comments have attracted widespread criticism and, bearing in mind the introduction of fees, comes on the back of the change for employees to have two years’ continuous service to benefit from many of the employment rights protection afforded to them (an increase from 12 months) and the cap on compensation that can be awarded being restricted to a maximum of 12 month’s pay it seems the changes favour the Employers. 

Mr Hancock said the reforms would make employers more willing to hire new staff because the threat of being sued after the first 12 months if the appointment did not work out had been lifted.

“British business has been forced to battle a silent job-killer in recent years,” the Skills and Enterprise Minister said. “Below the radar - unnoticed by many - firms big and small have fallen victim to the insidious growth in vexatious employment tribunal claims.…. Unscrupulous workers caused havoc by inundating companies with unfounded claims of mistreatment, discrimination or worse. Like Japanese knotweed, the soaring number of tribunal cases dragged more and more companies into its grip, squeezing the life and energy from Britain’s wealth creators.” You can read the full text at:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10790715/Minister-hails-80pc-fall-in-employment-tribunals.html

Meanwhile, the well-known and well-respected policy advisor Richard Dunstan has proposed an alternative fees regime which would raise the same amount of money and not have the effective impact of removing enforcement of workplace rights. Is it feasible, if so why was this not considered previously – also why not introduce the same scheme with the County Court?  Read the blog at http://hardlabourblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/et-fees-do-the-maths/

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