Maternity Action gave evidence to the Justice Committee review of court and tribunal fees last week. We outlined the dramatic decline in employment tribunal claims by pregnant women and new mothers following the introduction of fees of up to £1200. Thousands of women are priced out of access to justice and it is time the Government acted on this.
We argued that the person bringing a claim isn’t the only one to benefit from it. The claim benefits the employee who doesn’t face unlawful treatment because of the deterrent effect of the tribunal. It benefits the employer who doesn’t face unfair competition from other employers who reduce their costs by ignoring their legal obligations.
We flagged the wider social and economic benefits from compliance with employment law relating to pregnant women and new mothers. There are benefits in promoting gender equality and protecting the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies.
After fees were introduced, the number of claims for pregnancy-related detriment and dismissal dropped by 40%. This is extremely worrying. What is more worrying is that this is a cut to an already very small proportion of women who pursue legal action against their employer.
Research from 2005 found that the vast majority of women experiencing substantive discrimination, such as losing their job, do absolutely nothing. 71% don’t even discuss it with their manager. The proportion who pursued an employment tribunal in the years before fees were introduced was only 3%. Following the introduction of fees, this figure is now below 2%.
We need the employment tribunal to be an effective deterrent for employers considering whether or not to comply with their legal obligations. This means supporting women to exercise their legal rights rather than making justice unaffordable.
Removing employment tribunal fees is essential to addressing the appallingly high rates of pregnancy discrimination. Join us in asking the Government to take action.
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