Changes to Employment Laws

There leaves little doubt in my mind and many others, that the coalition government are waging on war on workers. Following on from a report made by Adrian Beecroft – an investor in loans company Wonga, who make up to 4,214% interest on payday loans to some of the poorest people in society, and a major donor to the Conservative Party.

From the 1st October, there have been changes to the law in the UK. Strangely, this hasn’t been given much coverage in the press, which is a shocking because it could potentially affect everyone. The changes affect ‘unfair dismissal’ claims and those seeking to take errant employers to an employment tribunal.

Probably the most depressing modification to the law and legislation is regarding employment tribunals. Until last month, if you had a serious issue with your employer it was free to take them to a tribunal and to make them see the error of their ways, and to receive some retrospective justice. With unions now having very little power, this course of action, although extreme, it was one of the few sources that enabled the worker not to be stepped on and treated disrespectfully by his/her paymasters.

From now on should you wish to take an employer to a tribunal it will cost you serious cash just to initiate the process. If you wish to take action over unpaid wages it will cost you £160 plus a £230 fee if it goes to a hearing. Should you have an issue about unfair dismissal or discrimination it could set you back, in total £1200.

This summer I had to do just that. I was working for a business school. I’d been doing work for them from last October until June. For most of this time they had failed to pay me. I went several months without being paid and when I e-mailed management they either said that they didn’t know what was happening or they ignored my e-mails altogether.

Having got to the point where I could no longer let this company get away with not paying me, I filed a tribunal claim. Mysteriously, two weeks after my claim was accepted by the Tribunal Office, they decided to pay up – clearly the biggest admission of culpability I was likely to get. As I had taken it that far, I decided to continue the claim, as I believed there were other problems that I’d had. In their counter-argument the ‘Grounds of Resistance’, the school claimed that failure to pay salary on the due date… not so serious a breach. While it raises serious questions about the morality of a company  – it raises even more serious questions regarding the individual’s standing and rights within the law.

That someone can go to work for an organisation and fail to be paid – to the point where serious arrears have been created in rent and other payments, is a very serious one indeed. Had it not been for my girlfriend’s income, I/we’d almost certainly have been on the streets by last spring. However, this is not a one-off case. I know of quite a few cases where people have not been paid by different companies, and in certain industries it seems to be more prevalent.

But here’s the real catch – if a worker hasn’t been paid by their employer, how on earth are they expected to stump up nearly £400 to get a tribunal hearing?  Let’s not forget that on top of that it will cost somewhere in the region of £400-500 per hour for an employment lawyer, if you do not have access to a good union or legal aid – which has also seen funding cut. Shockingly, if you feel you’ve been the victim of discrimination in the work place, it will take the best part of a month’s wages from the median salary – just to get your voice heard at a legal hearing.

With an estimated 1 in 5 workers not making the the living wage – estimated to be £8.30 per hour in London and £7.30 elsewhere – compared to the minimum wage, which stands at £6.19, many many people are already struggling just to survive. Just how are workers supposed to get fair representation? Many private companies will allow workers to join a union, because simply put, they don’t want their workers knowing their statutory rights.

Added to these changes is the award for unfair dismissal, which has been significantly lowered. So, while it doesn’t make it easier to get rid of people, it does make it a whole lot cheaper. The only silver lining to this is that the planned reforms were originally to include legislation that would make it much easier to sack people – with companies not needing a great deal of justification to give someone the chop.

Obviously, if you’re a small business and you have an employee who is not good enough, or who causes problems it should be reasonable to be able to let that worker go. Some companies do need assistance. However, much of these changes will be used by huge companies who have an enormous turnover to exploit workers even further.

Companies need to be brought to heel and made to realise that is the workers that make companies and not vice versa. Many people each year lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and the law needs to demonstrate a greater compassion for those in more precarious financial situations – not remove the few remaining measures left to them.



  1. For unpaid wages your best recourse is send a letter of warning and proceed with small claims court action if the amount is < £5k. For serious contract breaches the employment tribunal is your best bet - however the waiting time can be long as as stated there are now fees. Check if you are covered before April 2012 for a year or more services otherwise you need to have two years service starting on that date. If you are owed more than 25k (not including expenses these are not covered) then civil court is the best way to proceed and you are more likely to get a good solicitor. You can also claim 8% interest for the duration of non settlement.

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