Employment Law – What have rights got to do with it?


Elizabeth Stephenson, Employment Solicitor

I was lecturing a group of law students from the US this week, and unsurprisingly perhaps, it was clear that we in the UK enjoy better employment rights than the States generally in terms of things like the level of the National Minimum Wage, 5.6 weeks holiday per year, rights not to work more than a 48 hour working week and to have 11 consecutive hours rest between shifts. We also congratulate ourselves on the detailed legislation and body of case law we have in relation to discrimination law; how progressive we are.

But, with the introduction of tribunal fees, and the shocking drop of 79% in the number of tribunal claims being brought, I wonder if there is any point in these rights if nobody can afford to enforce them? Given that it now costs you £250 to issue an unfair dismissal or discrimination claim and a further £950 if that claim goes to hearing these rights and principles are out of most people’s price range. If your employer deducted £100 from your wages would you pay the £160 it would cost you to lodge a claim about it? And the further £230 if that claim went to hearing?

The system is becoming inaccessible to those who need it the most.

The prohibitively high level of fees and the complicated fee remission system is deterring people from what was already a daunting process. The tribunals seem quieter than ever. Have employers magically stopped breaching their obligations towards their employees? Or, do they now realise they can get away with more? These rights are all but meaningless unless we have the ability to enforce them. The smart people will join a trade union who could support them in those claims and help to redress the imbalance of power that exists and that will only become more significant, unless we act.

If you have been deterred from bringing an employment tribunal claim because of tribunal fees please support the TUC’s campaign for a change in the law on tribunal fees and tell them your story.

I often hear wronged employees saying they want to help stop what happened to them happening to others . This could be your chance to try.


Elizabeth Stephenson, Marcus Weatherby,
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