Almost a year after their introduction, employment tribunal fees have seen the number of claims fall dramatically. Photo: Getty
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Employment tribunal fees are a tax on justice

Employment tribunal fees are a tax on justice; Labour's National Policy Forum should commit to abolishing them.

Over the next three days, representatives from across our party will gather in Milton Keynes for one of the most important meetings Labour will have ahead of the general election. The agenda for our National Policy Forum meeting is packed and hopes for bold commitments and radical policy are high.  Whilst there will be many important issues discussed I wanted to set out why I think colleagues should support the amendment I’m putting forward to the Work & Business Policy Document which would commit a new Labour government to abolishing employment tribunal fees.

There have been many attacks on workers’ rights under this government – some receiving more press coverage than others.  It’s absolutely right that a light has been shone on the use of zero hour contracts and the living wage has moved up the national agenda.  But we also need to talk about the quality of life for those in work and about those who suffer injustice at work.

Employment tribunal fees are a deeply cynical ideological policy designed to deny workers justice and place additional burdens on trade unions, all the evidence points to that being the case.

Almost a year after their introduction employment tribunal fees have seen the number of claims fall at a dramatic rate.  In the months October to December 2013 the total number of claims fell by 79 per cent compared to the same quarter the previous year.  In the months January to March 2014 the total number of claims fell by 81 per cent compared to the same quarter the previous year.

It is the most vulnerable who are being hit hardest by this tax on justice. Within those figures it is equality based claims that have fallen most drastically. In the months January to March 2014 claims for equal pay fell by 84%, claims for sex discrimination fell by 81 per cent, and claims under the Working Time Directive fell by 90 per cent.

The fees are high – up to £1200 in total for an unfair dismissal claim – and the fee system is both complex and harsh.  If for example you reached terms of settlement with an employer the day before the hearing fee was due and your ACAS conciliator wasn’t in the office to turn the agreement around before the fee deadline you’d still have to pay it just to keep the case "live".  That’s £900+ for some claims.  For an individual who isn’t supported by a trade union, who has already agreed terms of settlement, that’s a huge outlay.  For trade unions – most of whom have now said they will pay fees where they believe the member’s claim has a reasonable prospect of success, it’s a massive new financial burden.

The Tories will say that this policy was to weed out vexatious (or malicious) claims.  The truth is anything but.  Employment tribunals already had the power to strike out or award costs to parties taking vexatious claims.  What has actually happened is that the poor and the unrepresented have been taxed out of justice and many more employees with legitimate concerns about their working conditions are leaving their employment via confidential settlement agreements.

There are no figures for the number of settlement agreements being signed off, but any trade unionist will tell you of their exorbitant increase under this government.  Why?  Because the Tories also introduced ‘protected conversations’ – where an employer can take you to one side, talk through your failings or concerns, tell you how difficult life will be if you pursue them and ask you to leave with a bit of money.  As long as they refer to that as a ‘protected conversation’ you will not be able to refer to it in any future litigation.

The vulnerable and the poor are most susceptible to that sort of pressure.  If you’ve been off work with stress and depression, fearful of what you might face on your return and feeling the pinch in your wallet it can seem like quite an attractive option in the short term.  But it doesn’t provide justice.  It doesn’t provide closure.  And an employer who has broken the law gets no comeback, no wrap on the knuckles or negative press as a result, because it’s all neatly wrapped up in a confidentiality clause.

We’re storing up problems both in terms of the impact on industry and the mental health of those at work.  The government talk of ‘mandating’ treatment for those claiming benefits due to mental ill-health.  There may not be so many of them if those leaving or moving employment were not so damaged by their experiences at work.

Our excellent leader in Scotland, Johann Lamont, has already made the commitment that if the No campaign wins in September and Scottish Labour is returned to government in Holyrood at the next Scottish Parliamentary elections, that administration would abolish tribunal fees.  The UK needs to follow Scotland’s lead and that’s why I’m calling on my colleagues at this weekend’s NPF to back my amendment and commit us to abolishing employment tribunal fees.  It won’t cost us anything and it should be a no brainer for a party such as Labour that is committed to social justice.

Johanna Baxter is a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representative on Labour's National Executive Committee, a CLP Secretary and full-time trade union official

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.