The Labour government plans to abolish the current employment tribunal fees regime if elected in May 2015, shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, told delegates at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference this week.

Describing the current procedure as “unfair and unsustainable”, Umunna said a future Labour government would reform the employment tribunals system to ensure that “all workers have proper access to justice”.

Tribunal claims have fallen by 45 per cent since fees – as much as £250 for a claim and £950 for a tribunal hearing – were introduced by the coalition last year.

Umunna said prohibitive costs were “locking people out of the justice they are entitled to”.

“Affordability should not be a barrier to workplace justice. But it would be a mistake to simply return to the system of the past, where tribunals were so slow that meaningful justice was not available,” he said.

Chris Tutton, partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell welcomed the idea of reform, but said that responsibility shouldn’t be placed solely on employers.

“It is important that the system for employment tribunals is reviewed regularly to ensure it is working effectively for both employees and employers.

“Striking the balance between access to justice and the avoidance of unmeritorious claims is vital, indeed following a period of significant change to the tribunal system including the introduction of fees and compulsory early conciliation, we believe a full and open consultation exercise into the current system would be beneficial,” he said.

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills policy at the CBI warned that scrapping fees completely could be a step in the wrong direction.

“Firms have been frustrated for years by delays in the system and by false and misleading claims that take up time and resources. Businesses want to see a return to a less bureaucratic system that deals with claims more quickly and is run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, rather than the Court Service,” he said.

“Recent reforms which encourage early resolution of disputes are a step in the right direction, and fees to make a claim are a vital part of that.

“Fees should not remove access to justice for those with legitimate claims, so a review of the level set is something businesses could support,” he added.

As part of his opening address to delegates at the TUC conference, Umunna also hinted that a Labour government would take a tougher line on blacklisting.

“If am given the privilege of serving as business secretary in the next Labour government we will deliver justice to those workers who lost their livelihoods and end blacklisting for once and for all,” he said.

Umunna said trade unions were vital to the success of Labour’s ‘pro-worker, pro-business’ reforms and called for activists to work with businesses to transform current employment practices.

Responding to the address on Twitter, Matthew Hancock, minister for business, enterprise and employment said: “With proposals like these from Chuka Umunna there’s no wonder every Labour government leaves office with unemployment higher.”

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