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Poorest workers will not pay tribunal fees, minister says

11 October 2011

Workers on the lowest salaries will be exempted from paying fees at employment tribunals, employment relations minister Ed Davey said this morning.

The Ministry of Justice is to launch a consultation on the introduction of fees for tribunals next month, a move which has appalled some employment lawyers.

Chancellor George Osborne told the Conservative Party conference earlier this month that the qualification period for unfair dismissal claims would be increased from one year to two on 6 April 2012.

At a press briefing at the department for Business, Innovation and Skills today, Davey said the objective of introducing fees at employment tribunals was to ensure that people using a publicly funded service made a contribution to it.

“People will be pleased by the generosity of the remissions,” he said. “People on low incomes will pay no fees.”

Davey said that fees would be reduced for those immediately above the lowest pay levels, suggesting that a sliding scale of fees is being considered.

He added that the previous government had twice considered whether to introduce fees for employment tribunals.

In a discussion paper on the UK labour market published by BIS earlier this month, officials said the government was looking at the issue of discrimination awards made by tribunals and intended to consult on this later in the year.

Davey said the problem was partly one of perception, and, despite the impression given by press reports, six figure awards were very rare.

However, he said there might be “some room for manoeuvre” in capping excessively high discrimination awards despite the constraints of European law. No date has been set for the consultation.

The minister described implementation of the agency workers directive on 1 October 2011 as “frustrating”, both for himself and for business, but said the government had no choice.

Davey said the CBI and the TUC made an agreement on the basic terms of the directive in 2008.

“I needed the agreement of the CBI and the TUC for any change I made, otherwise it would have been subject to a judicial review,” he said.

“If we had lost a judicial review, we would have lost the 12-week exemption which many other member states don’t have.

“When I looked businesses in the eye and asked whether I should put this at risk, they said no. There was nothing else we could do but go ahead.”

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