Wrong righted but the law makers got off with it.



It’s not everyday we get to celebrate a workers victory. Don’t worry I am not going to rant against the BBC or the mainstream media for giving it no coverage.

It got coverage but it got zero analysis.That part is up to you and me, especially with an issue like this.We must question everything. The media reports on this but could as well be saying ‘move on please, nothing to see here’, but believe us there is a lot to see here.

So what we are talking about is the court victory by the trade union Unison (In an Alex Ferguson voice my wee union, very proud, very proud.)

In secondary legislation passed in 2013 by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, low-paid workers, the vulnerable and those treated poorly by their employers –  were denied access to justice by employment tribunal fees. You had to pay a fee on an escalating scale to take a case to an employment tribunal, more money was charged if you were appealing a decision.

Rights are only meaningful if they can be upheld

Employment Tribunals are important to protect our most basic rights.

Hearing the news today I was reminded of the question ‘What is the worst job you have ever had?’.

For me it was as a 17-year-old in a Scottish Hotel for the summer season.It was live in, working in the kitchen.

After working there I could have written a Scottish version of Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’.

The accommodation was filthy, the manager was ‘on the take’ from the owners, and the workers, low paid to begin with, were getting squeezed.

The promised ‘summer bonus’ never appeared and in a show of solidarity me and some other young staff downed aprons and kitchen utensils.In a parallel move the chef went on strike because the said manager was fiddling the meat and pantry orders.

So at the tender age of 17 and after getting advice I went to the employment tribunal and reflected on whether this would in fact be ‘the worst job I would ever have’.

It was certainly the worst summer I ever had.We were effectively trapped in the hotel and any notion of time off or set working hours was at the managers discretion.He controlled us . (I also blame the waitress who kept playing the same Rod Stewart album, over and over and over again, but that is my problem and not relevant to this subject)

The happy ending was I won my case and got a cheque later that year which was very welcome. I did not have to pay any ‘fee’ to gain access to justice. The door was open to me and that was in 1975.



2013 Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government introduces fee system for Employment Tribunals

During the Tory-Liberal Coalition the government introduced a system of fees effectively barring people from getting access to justice in employment law. The Liberal Democrats were complicit in this.Nick Clegg was the leader at the time but there also 11 Scottish Liberal Democrat MP’ s, notably one Alistair Carmichael who we have seen challenged in court for his conduct as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Four electors from Orkney and Shetland lodged an election petition on 29 May 2015, the last date possible to do this following the 7 May general election, attempting to unseat Carmichael and force a by-election.On 2 June 2015, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner launched an investigation into his conduct, under sections 10, 14 and 16 of the Code of Conduct,but this investigation was dropped because Carmichael became aware of the memo via the Scottish Office and not in his capacity as an MP.On 9 December it was decided that although he had told a “blatant lie” in a TV interview, it had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he had committed an “illegal practice” and he was allowed to retain his seat. In February 2016 his application for costs was rejected, leaving him £150,000 out of pocket.Party leader Willie Rennie contributed £750 towards his costs. Carmichael was awarded £50,000 towards the costs from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.


Law makers to Law breakers

The Tories and Lib Dems had basically made a law that broke a number of other laws.

How could that have happened? Are there not checks and balances in the system to stop this? What were the opposition doing at the time?

Scotland had only 6 SNP MPs at that time. Scottish Labour had 40. Labour as a whole were regularly abstaining or even voting with the Tory/Lib Dem government on massively important matters to the working populations of the UK like setting austerity budgets.

What todays supreme court ruling has shown is that the Government made a law that infringed EU law, constitutional law and even the ancient law of the Magna Carta.The legislation was deliberately designed to deny workers their rights. Unison is to be congratulated for taking this case on and they are correct to call it ‘the most significant judicial intervention in the history of British employment law.’ Working people who need protection the most – low-paid workers, the vulnerable and those treated poorly by their employers –  were denied access to justice by employment tribunal fees.

What else can be challenged?

As well as being a victory for workers and a time to celebrate it is also a time to reflect on.

We will leave UNISON to take up the individual cases of those claiming compensation for fees paid out.

There is another matter though worthy of reflection.

What else have the law makers got away with? Perhaps more importantly what have they made laws about that is open to challenge and repeal?

We should take this as a greater lesson. The government that made this law also introduced an initiative to reduce so-called ‘red tape’ in local government.It subsequently affected the safety inspection regimes of councils in England and then this summer we had a deadly fire in Grenfell Tower.

What else have they done?

What else can be challenged legally?

This ruling has significant implications for all of our rights and protections as we head towards Brexit.

Basic rights such this are being torn apart by the Great Repeal Bill as we speak.

Please share- let people know that they can claim.

We will also never know how many people have been denied access to justice and to legal recourse. Their stories may remain untold and their rights unprotected. Likewise, there are those who have been forced to pay employment tribunal fees who will now demand those fees are returned to them. Unison will work with them to ensure the government cough up and admit they were wrong – legally and morally.

Legal and moral struggle- blatant injustice


‘Today’s result should bring to an end the cruel employment tribunal fees regime, and ensure that no-one else is ever forced to pay crippling fees just to access basic justice. But it is also a reminder of the importance of trade unions in fighting for all of our rights, and the importance of a legal system that allows us to stand with our members, and win for our members.’

Dave Prentiss UNISON



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