Employment tribunal costs preventing sex discrimination challenges

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie

Fewer women are taking forward challenges to sexual discrimination in the workplace following the introduction of employment tribunal costs, an MSP has said.

The number of cases being taken to tribunals has fallen sharply since charges were introduced in 2013, leading SNP MSP Christina McKelvie to claim they are “impeding access to justice for workers in Scotland - with women once again bearing the brunt of this government’s callous attitude to employee’s rights”.

The Scottish government says the number of new employment tribunal cases in Scotland fell by 65 per cent in the three months from January-March 2014 in comparison with the same period in 2013, and sex discrimination cases fell by 84.6 per cent.

There were 186 claims related to sex discrimination between October-December 2012, but only 27 such claims in October-December 2014.

The new fees regime sees workers shell out an initial charge of £160 or £250 to lodge a claim, based on its complexity, and then a further charge of £230 or £950 if it goes to a hearing.

In a Scottish Parliament debate, Ms McKelvie said: “Introducing fees for employment tribunals was always a retrograde step - and these figures show clear evidence that the unfair, indefensible fees are hindering workers seeking the justice they deserve.

“And with a staggering 85 per cent fall in sex discrimination cases, it couldn’t be clearer that once again it is women who are paying the price.”

She added: “The idea that any woman should be prevented from seeking justice for sex discrimination in 21st Century Scotland is simply unacceptable.”

Ms McKelvie was using a debate on employee rights in the Scottish Parliament to call for the powers governing employment tribunals to be devolved.

Powers over employment tribunals, but not broader employment rights or the minimum wage, were recommended to be devolved by the cross-party Smith Commission set up after last year’s referendum.

Ms McKelvie said the devolution of powers over employment rights would “allow us to take substantive action to protect the rights of workers and to put a stop to the seemingly endless Tory attacks on hard-working people”.

Roseanna Cunningham, the fair work secretary, said the Scottish Government would protect employees from the “regressive, corrosive and oppressive” approach of the UK government.

A spokesperson for Unison Scotland, which represents 150,000 workers in Scotland’s public sector, also backed the bid to devolve power over tribunals.

Danny Phillips from Unison Scotland told The Herald: “When the administration of tribunals is devolved, as the Smith Commission proposes, then we will see the abolishment of fees.

“This will protect workers’ rights and give safeguards to those who have problems with their employers.”