Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has claimed bad employers are ignoring their legal responsibilities and getting away with poor practices and evading justice. Her claim comes after a response to a written Parliamentary question from Business Minister, Margot James. When asked specifically about the effectiveness of employment law tribunals, since the introduction of fees in 2013, the Business Minister reluctantly admitted that the government is only recouping a fraction of the money it expected to generate from rogue employers who have appeared before employment law tribunals.
Answering Ms Lucas’ question, the Business Minister admitted that only £17,704 had been paid in financial penalties since they were enabled in April, 2014. During the period 18 fines were levied against employers for breaches of employment law: however, only 12 of these fines have since been paid.
Prior to the introduction of discretionary penalties in 2014, an impact assessment by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills had indicated that the expectation was that judges would impose sanctions in roughly a quarter of cases brought before them. The outcome of that would, it estimated, result in employers paying £2.8 million a year – money which would go directly to the Treasury.
These ‘discretionary’ penalties, which could be imposed for both repeated breaches of employment law or where the action was malicious, were intended to be a safeguard to ensure that high standards were always maintained in the workplace. The tribunal could impose penalties ranging from a minimum of £100 to a maximum of £5,000. However, since the introduction of tribunal fees in 2013, there has been a marked decline in the number of claims brought, and that has led inexorably to fewer examples of bad practice being exposed.
After hearing the admission from Margot James that discretionary penalties had yielded so little for the government, Ms Lucas said:
‘The tribunal fees introduced in 2013 have eradicated exactly the kind of tribunal claim that ministers had in mind when they came up with the idea: a relatively low-value claim (because the claimant is low-paid) against a rogue, exploitative employer.’
‘These revelations make it clear that we should take what ministers say about their shiny new policies with a heaped tablespoon of salt,’ she added.
The Law Society added its voice to the clamour and called for an urgent review of employment tribunal fees. The government had already started work on a review of the tribunal fees and was scheduled to have completed this work by the end of 2015. However, justice minister, Sir Oliver Heald, admitted last week that the work is still not finished. In a House of Commons debate, the justice minister said:
‘We are getting to the point at which we will soon be able to produce a report; it will not take much longer. I said that I would produce it as soon as possible in the new year and I meant it.’