CIPD: “Almost equal numbers of employers think employment tribunal fees should be scrapped or reduced as those who think the current fee levels should stay in place, the CIPD has revealed.
The institute’s survey of more than 1,000 employers found that 38 per cent of respondents felt the fees, which require claimants to pay up to £1,200 to bring a case, should be maintained. However, a similar proportion, 36 per cent, believed the fees should be significantly decreased or abolished, while the remainder of survey respondents were undecided.
This divide in opinion centres on the dramatic 70 per cent drop in the number of employment tribunal cases since fees were introduced in July 2013.
Employee representatives have been vocal in their criticism of the fees regime saying the high cost puts justice out of the reach of many people with legitimate claims. Trade union Unison attempted to block their introduction via the courts but the bid was unsuccessful. A further attempt by the union to force the government to withdraw them also failed.
However, the CIPD’s research showed that employers have focused on improving the way they manage workplace conflicts, with almost half, 47 per cent, offering training to line managers on handling difficult conversations or managing conflicts in the past 12 months. Employers are also more supportive of alternative dispute resolution methods. Almost a quarter of employers conducted internal mediation by a trained member of staff compared to almost one in ten who relied on external mediation.
Mike Emmott, employee relations advisor at the CIPD, said: “The introduction of fees has had a major impact on the behaviour of both employees and employers. The drop in claim volumes is unprecedented and shows just how far the terms of trade have shifted.
“Employers have long complained about the damaging effect that weak or unsubstantiated claims have on their business but given the staggering drop in claims, it must be the case that some perfectly valid claims have been discouraged as a result of the new fees.”
But he added: “It’s encouraging to see how many employers are making use of alternative methods of resolving issues and it’s welcome news that more managers are getting mediation training. This will improve the quality of conversations between them and their staff and help to diffuse conflict before it can escalate; prevention is better than cure.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a tribunal fees review. Commenting on the CIPD’s report, business secretary, Vince Cable, said: “It’s vital that the employment tribunal system strikes the right balance between employee and employer protection. I welcome this report from the CIPD and its valuable insights. The fact that employers are so split over whether the introduction of tribunal fees has been a good or a bad thing further reinforces the need for a review, despite opposition in some quarters. I’ve now set one in motion in my department.”
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has pledged to scrap tribunal fees if Labour wins the general election in May.
Responding to the findings that employers are focusing more on handling conflict, an Acas spokesperson said; “We always recommend dealing with an issue as early on as possible before it escalates and ensuring managers have the right skills is key.
“It is good to see that the CIPD has found that more workplaces are training managers to have difficult conversations.”