Struck out reviewd by Ian Bradley
Socialist Review, July 2012
With news recently that the Tories plan to make it easier to sack workers and shake up employment tribunals we are faced with a dilemma – is the legal route still the best route for an employee to settle a grievance with their employer or is there an alternative?
At first glance, and especially when we are told that 60 percent of employment claims are successful, it seems tribunals are still an effective way for workers to seek some form of justice. We are regularly bombarded with sensational newspaper headlines outlining the “massive” compensation payouts that workers can sometimes receive.
But in Struck Out, David Renton explains why from the establishment of the Industrial Training Act in 1964 (which intentionally sought to reduce the number of strikes) to the present day the odds are stacked against workers. He does this all in a way that doesn’t require a law degree to understand!
Using past cases, court documents and testimonies from people who have been through the whole tribunal process, he breaks it down from the first stage of filling in an ET1 form, through to the usually highly inadequate compensation. Such an outcome often leaves workers feeling defeated even when they win their cases.
The book is packed full of testimonies from people left feeling that the courts were biased in favour of their employer. But, as Renton argues, the “common law” tradition of the British courts further complicates this whole ordeal.
The author has experience both as an employment barrister and as a trade unionist which gives him a unique insight. This is what makes the book such a refreshing read. He clearly shows that the development of employment tribunals has led to over complicated industrial relations. Although he makes suggestions for reforms that would make for a fairer system, he also argues that most disputes would be better settled in the workplace with a stronger trade union presence.
The defeats of the early 1980s within the trade union movement has seen unions take a step back from collective bargaining, and moved them into an over reliance on the court system to settle disputes. With the legal budgets of trade unions already overstretched to breaking point, and with the increases due in court fees, it leaves them with difficult choices about what to do in the future.
This book serves as a fantastic guide to workers and will hopefully open up a debate within the trade union movement about the best way to spend their resources. All this contributes to better workplace organisation and collective bargaining, and only with that will we finally see a fairer and a more just way for victimised workers to get justice.