By Maximilian Clarke

Plans outlined last year by the coalition that would introduce a fee for tribunal claimants have been rubbished by the Trades Union Congress.

The proposals were voiced as a means of reducing the number of frivolous claims in order to lessen the burden on business and better allow genuine claimants’ views to be heard. But unions have deemed the proposals 'retrogressive', claiming that they will block access of poorer workers to justice.

Before Christmas the government published its plans for charging users of employment tribunals. Under the proposals an individual will have to pay a minimum of £600 and possibly as much as £1,750 to have a discrimination claim heard at a tribunal.

Workers with a gross annual income of as little as £13,000 a year (the minimum wage for a full-time job) or couples with a joint income above £18,000 a year could have to pay towards these fees - likely to be amongst the highest fees charged under the proposed system - to pursue discrimination cases.

If the plans come into law, the TUC believes it will be even harder in future to get proper enforcement and compliance with the law as employers will know that they face little realistic prospect of being held to account.

Speaking at the TUC's annual discrimination law conference at Congress House in London, Brendan Barber will say: “The fight against discrimination is far from won. The coalition's cuts are having a devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

“Ministers are pursuing a deregulatory agenda, dismissing vital rights as red tape and so-called burdens on business. While the government pays lip service to equality, some of its actions threaten to make Britain less equal, less fair and much less just.

“That's why our priorities over the coming year must be to defend legal rights and access to justice, and why we must resist draconian government plans to charge people for using employment tribunals.

“For the first time, individuals will have to pay as much as £1,750 to have a discrimination or equal pay claim heard by an employment tribunal - among the highest fees are to be charged under the proposed system.

"So whether we are trade unionists, representatives of voluntary sector organisations, or legal professionals, it's vital we work together to address all of these challenges in the year ahead.

"The TUC will continue to do what we have always done, fighting discrimination, campaigning for fairness, and striving for equality at work and in society."

Other speakers at the Discrimination Law in 2012 conference today (Friday) include leading barristers and academics Professor Sir Bob Hepple QC, Catherine Casserley, Robin Allen QC, Jane McNeill QC, Karon Monaghan QC, Michael Rubenstein and Helen Mountfield QC.

Issues on the agenda include disability discrimination, discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief or sexual orientation, equal pay, sex and race discrimination, age discrimination and the public sector equality duty.

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