Access to justice in the employment tribunal : private disputes or public concerns?

Busby, Nicole and McDermont, Morag (2016) Access to justice in the employment tribunal : private disputes or public concerns? In: Access to Justice. Hart Publishing, Oxford, pp. 175-196. ISBN 9781849467346

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Abstract

This chapter is concerned with access to justice for workers against the backdrop of cuts to legal aid, the imposition of employment tribunal (ET) fees and other recent amendments to the already complex, restrictive and highly technical labour law framework. The financial crisis and resulting austerity measures have been cited by the Coalition Government as justification for these changes but we argue that their effect has been far more extensive and damaging than would be proportionate even in response to the deepest structural recession. In the chapter we use case studies from a two-year multi-site research project, ‘Citizens Advice Bureaux and Employment Disputes’ to provide examples of the impact of the current system on the experiences of a group of claimants to the ET. As some of these personal stories demonstrate, the denial of access to justice for those seeking redress against often powerful and unscrupulous employers can have devastating and long-lasting effects on the lives of individuals and their families. The chapter begins with a consideration of the operation of the labour market, the nature of employment relations and the development of workplace dispute resolution the last fifteen years or so. We argue that the current system does not provide a suitable and effective forum for resolving workplace disputes and that recent government reforms have exacerbated, rather than improved, things for workers who experience unlawful treatment at work such as discrimination, unfair dismissal or non-payment of wages. The net result is likely to be retrenchment of pre-existing inequalities of power between workers and employers which will be felt to such an extent that labour law is in severe danger of losing its democratic function. We conclude by suggesting some alternative approaches by which employment disputes could be resolved or avoided whilst ensuring access to justice.