Last week, as I was reading through the Hansard record of a House of Lords grand committee debate on the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill, my eye was drawn to a comment made by shadow BIS minister Lord Young, during an exchange with BIS minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe on ET fees.
Surely there ought to be some concern about a situation where, in some regions, the number of employment tribunal [claims] has dropped by 80 per cent? Surely that is not an indication that 80 per cent of claims were vexatious. Does [the Minister] really not have any concern in this situation that fees are deterring people from bringing what could be completely fair and justifiable cases before an employment tribunal?
Shockingly but not surprisingly, as President Josiah Bartlet would say, the Minister turned out not to have any great concern, but Lord Young’s use of the qualifier “some regions” reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with an adviser to a shadow minister. The adviser said he had been told that, while claim/cases were sharply down in some ET regions, in other regions the employment judges were almost as busy as ever. I said that was news to me, and made a mental note to look into the matter. And the chart below is the result.
For this chart, I have focussed on single claims/cases, as that is (currently) the Ministry of Injustice’s favoured measure of ET receipts. And, for each ET region, I have charted the monthly number of new single claims/cases over the 12-month period October 2013 to September 2014, as a fraction of the average over the 12-month period July 2012 to June 2013. So, for example, where claims/cases are down by 60 per cent on the pre-fees average, they are plotted at 0.4 in the chart. All source data is from the Ministry’s quarterly tribunal statistics. There would be little point including the figures for all the claimants in multiple claimant cases in this exercise, and sadly the Ministry does not give a breakdown by region of the number of multiple claimant cases (which I would otherwise include).
I could be wrong (I often am), but to my mind the chart suggests either that the shadow minister’s adviser was misinformed, or that he or I somehow got the wrong end of the stick. For there is remarkably little variation between the ET regions, and all have followed much the same pattern over the period up to September 2014. Scotland has remained a little bit busier than the North East and Wales, it’s true, but not really busier enough to induce any work-shy Scottish ET judge to check out the Newcastle or Cardiff housing markets. Then again, the ET judges in Newcastle or Cardiff perhaps have a little more reason than most to be checking out the jobs market.
Interestingly, the chart suggests that, in March 2014, there was a bit of a rush to get claims issued before the coming into force of Acas early conciliation on 6 April, much as there was in July 2013 to beat fees.
The chart also confirms that Lord Young was somewhat over-egging it when he said that claims are down in “some regions” by 80 per cent. While Wales came very close, at the peak (or depth) of the Acas early conciliation ‘pause’ in May 2014, the truth is that no region has fallen quite that far (at least, not in terms of single claims/cases). However, by September 2014, single claims/cases were down by more than 60 per cent in all but one of the eight ET regions, the exception being Scotland, down a mere 59 per cent. And not even the nuttiest employer lobby group has ever claimed that, pre-fees, 60 per cent of all single claims were vexatious.
So, who are the real winners from the situation revealed by this chart? They are not the ET judges in Cardiff and Newcastle, but the dinosaur and rogue employers throughout England, Scotland and Wales who have breached the statutory employment rights of their workers with impunity. And the losers include not just the abused workers in question, but the great majority of law-abiding employers denied a level playing field. Just ask Tory MP Sir John Randall, who is closing his family business after being undercut by rivals lowering costs by employing staff on zero-hours contracts and “brutal” working conditions.