Lawyers threaten union powerbase

The increasing use of no-win no-fee lawyers in employment tribunal claims is
causing growing concern among trade unions and employers.

A major fear is that employment law specialists will challenge agreements
that have already been reached between employers and the unions.

Gary McHale, head of employment law at supermarket chain Asda, said:
"We have seen an increase in the number of claimants who are being
professionally represented, which might be an indication that these no-win
no-fee arrangements are becoming more commonplace."

The Employment Lawyers Association is concerned and is in the initial stages
of consulting with the Government on whether to introduce an accreditation
scheme, allowing only certain lawyers to represent claimants at tribunals.

The unions are also worried. The TUC’s annual Focus on Employment Tribunals
survey – due to be published in the next few weeks – is set to reveal an
increase in the number of professionals from outside the union movement
approaching members.

A spokesperson from the Transport and General Workers’ Union said that all
the money it has won in tribunal cases has gone to individual members "in real
contrast with others working in the field who make deductions – sometimes
substantial ones – from settlements".

Jan Parkinson, strategic director of HR at Gateshead Council, said the
no-win no-fee lawyers are not benefiting the people they purport to help.

"I have heard of cases of these types of lawyers undermining agreements
that have already been reached between employers and unions, particularly in
equal value cases at local councils," she said

"We would always encourage staff to go through their union or talk to
management to raise any issues of concern."

Newcastle City Council said it had also seen private solicitors working on
behalf of some of its employees, but was not concerned about the trend.

A council spokesman said: "We recognise that employees have the right
to go to a tribunal if they feel aggrieved and that they should be able to
choose who represents them."

By Mike Berry

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