Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Tory Tribunal Fee Farce





















Unalloyed goodness is a rarity in politics, especially when it comes to labour movement politics. But the decision handed down by the Supreme Court this morning ruling that employment tribunal fees are unlawful is some of the best industrial news seen in years. Implemented by the Tories with Liberal Democrat support in 2013, it was ostensibly part of the contrived war on red tape. According to the former Prime Minister, workplace rights were getting in the way of job creation and growth. A convenient scapegoat when you consider the real reason for Britain's economic underperformance has much to do with business banking its profits and effectively going on capital strike. In reality, the introduction of fees strengthened management in the workplace and enabled a more precarious labour force. Bosses had the freedom to intimidate, bully, and diddle workers without any comeback.

Tribunals have always occupied a problematic place in the Tory imagination. They have the power to impose fines and order reinstatement of employment, though in practice many claimants settle for compensation. However, it represents an extra layer of mediation between employees and employer that implicitly challenges management's right to manage. The requirement to pay an upfront and non-refundable fee of between £390 and £1,200 to take an employer to tribunal was self-evidently unfair and unjust, and so had to be introduced under a smokescreen of bogus stories about vexatious claims and exporbitant penalties placing heavy loads on hard-pressed businesses. Incidentally, it was cuddlesome liberal hero Uncle Vince Cable who was responsible for most of the spadework done. In his role as business minister in the Coalition government, the new LibDem leader recommended and implemented the raising of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years, and advocated the introduction of tribunal fees to "encourage potential claimants to fully consider their cases". Truly a case of looking from Tory to LibDem, LibDem to Tory, and not knowing which was which.

The Supreme Court judgement decreed that fees acted as a obstacle to justice. As most potential claims are for monies less than the tribunal cost, potential claimants were deterred due to the process leaving them further out of pocket, even if successful. And like so many of the measures the Tory/LibDem coalition brought in, it tended to disproportionately impact women. According to the BBC, the government indicated that it would reimburse all fee payments if they were found to have acted unlawfully. Hardly the language of a party determined to appeal the decision.

From the government's point of view, it's politically wise not to appeal. In the quiet of the summer, why give bored headline writers Tory meat to chow down on when, as far as they're concerned, they can carry on worrying the Labour Party? Even if they are minded to try and push something through the Commons when it reconvenes properly in October, being seen to not be on the workers' side and problems lining up all the backbenchers present a headache it could do without. There are no opportunities here for the Tories, just cost, cost, cost.

And what's good news for workers is also good news for the Labour Party. Yet again we have another instance of party policy - in this case the scrapping of tribunal fees - effectively being implemented by a Conservative government. How many more times is this going to happen between now and the next general election?

4 comments:

Chris Gravell said...

Who would the govt appeal to? This is a decision of the Supreme Court, highest UK court.

Phil said...

Lol, good point. Though there is always the European Court of Justice ...

Anonymous said...

Although Vince "Who's that crossing my bridge?" Cable deserves a drubbing for this, he was being led by the nose by then-cabinet minister Chris Grayling, an incompetent shitclown with a string of illegal "laws" on his CV, who in any kind of meritocracy wouldn't even be trusted to play the triangle in a school orchestra.

And breathe...

Anonymous said...

Actually, that raises an interesting point. Check out the Guardian's coverage of this debacle and you will not find a single mention of Vince Cable's role in it.

Here's the Guardian's op-ed on this story, for example: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/26/the-guardian-view-on-employment-tribunal-fees-denial-of-justice

Something tells me that, despite its recent endorsement of Labour at the General Election, the Guardian is in no hurry to damage the credibility of the Lib Dems or the reputation of the party's new leader. No doubt, a tack back to the centre is planned at some point in the not-too-distant.