The number of applications to employment tribunals fell by a quarter in 2004, but experts have warned that the number of cases is likely to rise in the next few years.
New figures show that there were 97,896 claims in 2004, compared to 127,594 claims throughout 2003 – a drop of 24%.
The fall comes as Tony Blair declared a “war on Britain’s perverse compensation culture”.
The prime minister told the Institute for Public Policy Research in London that it was time to replace the compensation culture with a “common sense culture”.
But experts have said that the 24% drop was unlikely to be a good reflection of future trends.
Rita Donaghy, chair of conciliation service Acas, said that collective cases in 2003 – including applications by 7,000 members of Jobcentre Plus over the compulsory wearing of ties at work – had forced figures up artificially and the real fall in applications in 2004 was much smaller.
Mike Huss, senior employment law specialist at law firm Peninsula, said a combination of growth in ‘no win, no fee’ organisations and an increase in employee rights meant the number of tribunal applications “will certainly rise over forthcoming years”.
It also seems that the new statutory grievance procedures introduced in October last year have helped to delay the number of claims rather than resolve them.
Paul Lambdin, an employment partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton, said the procedures meant that claims were taking longer to process and were actually generating claims themselves.
“I am already seeing claims coming through because of employers allegedly not going through the procedures properly,” he said. “I would expect a surge in the number of applications around autumn because of this.”
Donaghy added that it was too early to tell whether the grievance procedures were having the desired impact.
“It’s very difficult to say if they are working,” she said. “It would be very nice to be able to flatter the government, but I don’t think it would be right to do that.”
The four-step statutory grievance procedure
- An employee involved in disciplinary proceedings will receive a letter outlining the problem and providing information about the complaint
- The employer holds a meeting with the employee
- The employer makes a decision
- The employee can then appeal against the decision
If this procedure is not followed, then any dismissal will be counted as unfair, which in turn may lead to increases in compensation for the employee, sometimes by as much as 50%.
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