An important chance to make sure that rogue employers pay up
Few workers take cases of mistreatment to employment tribunals. However, for those who successfully manage to negotiate the system and take a successful claim, there is a one in ten chance that they will never receive the award that they are entitled to. The Government has an important chance to close this loophole, and make amendments to the Employment Bill to ensure that workers who win an award receive it.
The Commission on Vulnerable Employment recently drew attention to this problem, with survey evidence demonstrating that over a quarter of employment rights advisers (28 per cent) reported that tribual awards were frequently upheld and then not enforced, with a further 60 per cent indicating this was occasionally the case. Citizens Advice has been highlighting this issue for many years.
Because employment tribunals have no powers to enforce awards they make, when an employer fails to pay an award it can only be enforced by individual claimants initiating legal action in the civil courts. This requires workers to pay various up-front fees, which can prove real barriers for low-paid workers seeking to obtain their claims. Even when further legal action is taken there is no guarantee of success, as there are a number of ways employers can try to frustrate such enforcement action and there is no means to compensate workers whose employers are in administration.
For low-paid workers this can exacerbate poverty (a theme discussed accross the world in blog action day) and injustice. Maggie is one of the claimants who has approached her CAB for help:
Maggie first sought advice from her local CAB in Hertfordshire, in February 2007. Upon resigning from her job as a care assistant at a care home in December 2006, due to repeated non-payment of her wages, Maggie had not received her final four weeks’ wages. When her former employer did not respond to correspondence on the matter, Maggie approached the CAB and, with their assistance, made a tribunal claim. In June 2007, Maggie won a tribunal award of £720 for unpaid wages, but her former employer subsequently failed to pay any of the award. In October 2007, Maggie paid £35 to register the unpaid award in the local county court, and in January 2008 she paid a further £45 to obtain an order to obtain information from a judgment debtor, all to no avail.
The Government are “committed to continuing to work with the CAB to review and improve where possible the process of enforcing tribunal awards” – but they have to act now. An amendment to the Employment Bill would provide a perfect opportunity to make it much easier for workers in this situation to get the compensation that is owed to them. To date the Lib Dems and, in a bizarre deviation from the current direction of their employment policy, the Conservatives, have supported such changes. If the Government is on the side of vulnerable workers, it will take this opportunity and vote for fairness.