Thousands of workers, including nurses and midwives, could be due for repayments from the government after the Supreme Court ruled tribunal fees to be unlawful.
Ruling on 26 July, the UK’s highest court made a decision in line with trade union UNISON’s arguments – that the fees, ranging up to £1,200, were preventing low-income workers from getting justice in the workplace.
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In 2013, the government’s introduction of the fees saw a 79% reduction of cases over three years. The Supreme Court concluded the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally by introducing the fees.
Jon Skewes, policy director for the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM), welcomed the news on behalf of healthcare workers. ‘The RCM would like to congratulate UNISON on such an important victory,’ he said. ‘Workplace tribunal fees denied justice to workers who had been mistreated in the workplace and they were plainly unfair and unjust.
‘The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 was a disgraceful and cynical move to price ordinary people out of exercising their rights and effectively giving a free pass to bad bosses. Today’s ruling is not only a victory for all workers, but shows once again that trade unions are a force for good.’
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Mental health charity Mind indicated that many people with mental health problems may have been unfairly forced out of jobs, but left unable to take action due to high legal fees.
Paul Farmer, their chief executive, said: ‘The fees were prohibitive to people on lower wage, lower income jobs who may have struggled to find the costs to fund a case.
‘Too often, people with mental health problems feel that they have been forced out of a job because of their mental health and these fees were yet another barrier for us in the fight for fairness and equality in the workplace.’
UNISON had already lost their case in the high court and court of appeal before it was sent to the Supreme Court. Now, the Ministry of Justice has pledged to take ‘immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid,’ which could see workers enjoy more than a £27 million pay out.
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‘The government infringed EU law, constitutional law and even the Magna Carta with a piece of legislation explicitly designed to deny working people their rights,’ said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis. ‘Today, the Supreme Court has righted a terrible wrong and sided with those the government sought to silence.
‘The government’s attacks on public service employees as a result of austerity had already hit UNISON members hard in terms of pay, jobs and services – to then turn on their right to legal recourse was the final straw.’