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Industrial Relations Hearings (Employee And Employer Representation)

Volume 979: debated on Tuesday 19 February 1980

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of employees and what percentage of employers are represented by lawyers, by union officials or by other industrial relations advisors, respectively, at industrial relations hearings.

For statistics on the percentages of employers and employees represented by lawyers and trade union representatives in industrial tribunal hearings, I refer the hon. and learned Member to the answer that I gave on 29 January. Statistics for representation by "other industrial relations advisers" are not available.

Is it not correct that, whatever the representation, the failure rate of cases concerning unfair dismissal which now reach industrial tribunals is 72 per cent.? Nearly three out of four cases fail. If that is correct, will the Minister reconsider the Government's proposal to remove the burden of proving fairness from employers in cases which are already heavily weighted in the employers' favour?

We must look at the matter in the context of encouraging employers, particularly small employers, to create new jobs, and to maintain existing jobs. There is another side to the figures given by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Employers have been brought to the tribunal to answer claims for unfair dismissal which, in 70 per cent. of the cases, have proved to be unsustainable. That is part of the problem which must be faced.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that the reason why so many cases are turned down by industrial tribunals is that they are fatuous cases in the beginning?

There is a widely held feeling that a mechanism needs to be instituted to filter out the truly hopeless case before the employer has to go to court with his foreman, his production manager and so on, and spend a day or two days there, only to find, having won the case, that he receives no costs.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that one of the grave imperfections of the present law on industrial tribunals is that employers can be brought before them, and yet no costs can be awarded? Does not that militate unfairly against employers who have to spend considerable time and effort in attending industrial tribunals, often to defend wholly fictitious claims?

Although it is not quite accurate to say that no costs can be awarded, they are awarded in 2 to 3 per cent. of cases only—cases in which the claim is shown to be frivolous and vexatious. The Government are aware of the concern that is felt, and we propose to make certain improvements.