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TORIES could be gearing up to reintroduce employment tribunal fees, lawyers warned today as a feted shake-up of workers’ rights received a frosty reception from the labour movement.
The government published its Good Work plan in response to former Blair adviser Matthew Taylor’s review of work, which was ordered by the Tories following criticism of practices at “gig economy” firms like Uber and Deliveroo.
But the government’s paper defends the fees regime that was quashed by the Supreme Court last year.
The court ruling meant fees were immediately abolished and litigants are now being refunded, but the government document says that the court found “the charging of fees was not wrong in principle” and that “fees were a legitimate means of making resources available.”
Discussing Mr Taylor’s recommendation that workers should get confirmation of their employment status without charge, the report goes on to say: “Should the government decide to reintroduce fees in the employment tribunal system, [the government] would at that point consider the question of whether to charge fees for proceedings about the determination of employment status and consult.”
Thomsons Solicitors chief executive Steve Cavalier blasted: “Will they ever learn?
“The fact the government is even contemplating the possibility of reintroducing employment tribunal fees shows it has not learned the lessons of the excoriating Supreme Court judgment.
“This government is not interested in rights of workers. It’s far more interested in putting obstacles in way of justice for workers.”
The government said it would introduce new workers’ rights from day one of employment.
Ministers pledged to enforce workers’ holiday and sick pay for the first time and there will be a new right to a payslip.
Laws allowing agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates could also be repealed, while some employment tribunal fines against employers will be quadrupled to £20,000.
Zero hour and agency workers will only have the right, however, to “request” a more stable contract.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has taken a baby step when it needed to take a giant leap.
“These plans won’t stop the hire-and-fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment and they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.”
In the House of Commons, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey raised the plight of DPD gig economy courier Don Lane.
The 53-year-old collapsed and died from diabetes last month. He had missed three medical appointments, having being fined £150 by his employer for attending a previous hospital visit.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said the case was a “terrible tragedy” but did not argue the new regime would prevent such cases. He said that self-employed workers should have terms that would “not be so onerous that they should be abusive.”
Unison leader Dave Prentis said the Good Work plan was “no good, it won’t work and it isn’t a plan.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache said the government’s response was “like trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol.”
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