FE is not immune to Tribunal claims. Whether they come from disgruntled lecturers or churlish caretakers, Colleges get their fair share of Tribunal claims. So how will the new Tribunal regime that exists, in terms of paying fees and pre-claim conciliation work in practice?
The latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice make for interesting reading. They have confirmed the dramatic reduction in the number of Tribunal claims since the introduction of Tribunal fees in July 2013. Depending on which figures you look at, the reduction is stark. There has been around a 60% drop in the number of Tribunal claims lodged in the January to March 2014 period as compared to the previous year. It seems reasonable to conclude that the introduction of Tribunal fees has had an effect on the number of claims lodged. On the one hand, the introduction of fees has been seen as helpful to reduce the number of spurious or less meritorious claims. On the other hand, as UNISON has argued, fees are preventing individuals from exercising their legal rights in that the fees breach the principle of effectiveness (making it difficult for individuals to enforce their legal employment rights) and are seen as indirectly discriminatory (discrimination claims are more expensive to lodge with the Tribunal). UNISON has challenged the validity of the fees regime but it is unlikely that the case will be heard until the Autumn at the earliest. However, the publication of the statistics has given the union strong arguments to advance its position yet further.
The Government has pledged its determination to keep the fees regime under review. However, it is widely expected that even if UNISON succeeds in its legal arguments the matter will be appealed to the higher Courts for determination. Therefore, in the short term any proposed changes are likely to be in relation to the amount of fees payable; commentators widely expect the fees to be reduced if nothing else. However, time will tell.