Experts fear outbreak of red tape could strangle employment tribunal system

The government has a fight on its hands if it plans to lengthen rather than shorten the route to employment tribunals, employers and unions have warned.

Just two weeks after Personnel Today revealed the DTI was considering adding compulsory mediation to the statutory grievance procedures, trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling confirmed that a shake-up was on the cards.

While employers will welcome the DTI rethink, experts fear the rising number of cases going to tribunal is what really prompted the review and that the government will add more steps to the process in a bid to put people off.

In 2005-06 more than 115,000 claims were lodged, a year-on-year rise of 29,000.

The CBI has suggested introducing fees for filing papers as a deterrent to spurious claims, a view echoed by employment lawyers.

Guy Guinan, a partner in the employment team at law firm Halliwells, said a fee system would not deter legitimate claims, as proven by the small claims court.

“The introduction of such fees would at least demonstrate that the claimant was serious about pursuing the claim,” he said. Tribunals should also be more willing to strike out claims with little merit or those claims that are out of time, Guinan said.

Hannah Reed, senior employment rights officer at the TUC, said if the review was designed to add further hoops for employees and organisations to jump through, then the government would be challenged.

“Under European law, every individual has a right to have their case independently adjudicated,” she said. “Anything that could be seen to cause problems in that area would not be viewed favourably.”

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