A Labour government would completely reform the employment tribunal system the party has announced.
Speaking at the TUC Congress in Liverpool, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the current system, where fees range between £160 and £250 to issue a claim, and between £230 and £950 if it goes to a hearing, was “locking people out of the justice they are entitled to”.
If elected, the Labour Party would streamline the tribunals process so it would be less bureaucratic for both staff and employers, he said.
Figures from the tribunal service show a dramatic drop in claims since employment tribunal fees were introduced in summer 2013. There were 79% fewer claims in the period from October to December 2013 than in the same period in 2012, and a 59% drop in the first three months of this year.
Unions have widely criticised the introduction of fees, with Unison demanding a judicial review, which is scheduled to be heard at the Court of Appeal next week.
Umunna told delegates: “The current employment tribunal system is unfair, unsustainable and has resulted in prohibitive costs.
“Affordability should not be a barrier to workplace justice, but it would be a mistake to simply return to the system of the past, where tribunals were so slow that meaningful justice was not available.”
Reacting to the proposals, lobbying group the CBI said that while the current system could be improved, there was not a case for abandoning it entirely.
Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills policy, said: “Recent reforms which encourage early resolution of disputes are a step in the right direction, and fees to make a claim are a vital part of that. Fees should not remove access to justice for those with legitimate claims, so a review of the level set is something businesses could support.”
Chris Tutton, a partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, added that it was important to ensure the system was reviewed regularly, and that a “full and open consultation exercise into the current system” would be beneficial. “Striking the balance between access to justice and the avoidance of unmeritorious claims is vital,” he said.