As featured in Crain’s Manchester Business

Recent reports have confirmed that the Employment Tribunals Service in the North West is currently suffering such a backlog of cases that people are now being told that it will be at least 12 months before their case is heard.

There has indeed been a sharp rise in claims over recent years in various areas of employment law, but especially regarding class actions, with the most prominent escalation being in equal pay disputes, and the tribunal system is straining under the massive rise in equal pay claims.

In addition to the surge in class actions, the economic climate in 2008 – 2009 led to a sharp increase in unemployment and widespread redundancies across all sectors of the economy, again leading to a substantial rise in claims being processed by Tribunals. Predictably, unfair dismissal claims overtook equal pay as the most frequently lodged claim in 2009, and redundancy pay cases rocketed.

Tribunals have indeed tried to address and clear the backlog, by piloting additional evening hearings between 6.00 and 8.00pm.  The idea is that the evening sessions are expected to concentrate on simpler cases which could be resolved in less than an hour. 

Other suggestions have included the introduction of a preliminary assessment for all claims submitted to the Tribunal Service, to weed out those which are frivolous or which have no reasonable prospect of success, prior to the employer having to incur the costs in defending them. It has also been suggested that a nominal fee should be introduced (as is the case with court claims), in the hope that this would put off those lodging claims simply as a negotiating tactic.

Unfortunately, there is no simple reason or answer to this dilemma, however, the Tribunals are trying their best to deal with the situation and accommodate people as best they can.