Wednesday, 26 July 2017

UNISON Victory For Everyone At Work


So many working people previously denied justice by our own government


UNISON has won a landmark court victory today (Wednesday) against the government, which means that employment tribunal fees will now be scrapped.

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.

The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals. This is since July 2013, when fees were introduced by Chris Grayling, the then Lord Chancellor.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.
“These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna said: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.

“The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to Parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

Notes:
– The judgement UNISON v The Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 2015/0233 can be found here
– The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.
– The judges also said fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and also put off more genuine cases, than the so-called vexatious claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter.
– The Supreme Court stressed that the administration of justice is not merely a public service, where courts and tribunals are only of value to the “users” who appear before them and who obtain a remedy. They said access to justice is of value to society as a whole, especially where cases establish legal rules and principles of general importance.
– The Court said UNISON’s evidence showed the fall in claims when fees came in was “so sharp, so substantial and so sustained” that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes. It also held that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.
– Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013.
– Fees started at around £160 for a type A claim (for example wage claims, breach of contract), and £250 for a type B claim (unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination). There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.
– A timeline of the various stages in UNISON’s legal challenge, which began in October 2013 is here.
– UNISON has a number of case studies who would have been unable to seek justice without the support of their union.
– The government’s employment tribunal fees review published in January showed that £27m was collected in fees from 2012-16.




Saturday, 22 July 2017

Welcome: Newly Qualified Teachers


Newly Qualified Teachers in Reading
I was delighted to welcome a group of newly qualified teachers to the Council Chamber in Reading to celebrate the completion of the first year of their teaching careers.

Representing schools from all parts of the town, primary and secondary, their enthusiasm, excitement and pride shone through.

Though some will now pursue their careers elsewhere, many of those I met were intent on teaching the children of Reading for many years to come. Congratulations and good luck!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Don't Let The Government Behead Democracy

"The government has triggered Article 50 - which means we are leaving the EU. But the battle for our democracy and our rights has only just begun."

Meeting: Wednesday 6th September 2017, 7.30pm at RISC, London Street, Reading 

briefing published by Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now argues that the powers contained in the "Great Repeal Bill" present a fundamental threat to a number of areas, including:
  1. Workers’ rights in particular the rights of agency workers, protections for working time, and enforcement of the prohibition on discrimination.
  2. The environment in particular ensuring that environmental protections are effective, and polluters bear the cost of pollution, water safety, and air quality.
  3. Human rights particularly prohibitions on the torture trade and protections for privacy.
  4. Consumer protection particularly the regulation of dangerous chemicals and food safety.
  5. Financial regulation particularly in the event that Brexit negotiators are unable to secure the concessions required to maintain the City of London’s access to the EU.
Campaigners will seek to amend the Great Repeal Bill extensively to ensure that rights are preserved. This will include a sunset clause for the delegated powers in the Bill, and a guarantee that that the powers the Bill provides will not be used to reduce substantive individual rights and protections – forming the basis of a Judicial Review if this were to happen.

Labour MP Clive Lewis said: “The Tories are using the Brexit process as a means of undermining democracy and our rights. I and other MPs will use every opportunity to amend the Great Repeal Bill to ensure rights are preserved and the government does not award itself the powers of a renaissance monarch.”

Dr Sam Fowles, author of the report, said: “The Great Repeal Bill creates the opportunity for the government to remove rights and protections to which it objects without going through the usual mechanisms of democratic accountability. This report highlights those policy areas to which the Conservative party has already shown hostility, including protections for the environment, workers, and individual privacy. These rights are at risk unless the bill is amended.”

Meeting: Wednesday 6th September 2017, 7.30pm at RISC, London Street, Reading