Friday 7th December 2012 at 10:21am
In Struck Out David Renton, a practising barrister and former trade union official, examines the effectiveness of the employment tribunal system in protecting the interests of workers. Renton’s study, accessible to anyone with an interest in labour law, relies on a mixture of political and industrial history, interspersed with personal narratives and statistics. Like many, Renton sees the current tribunal system as flawed, but in his view, as he intimates on the very first page, to better protect the interests of workers ‘the answers are outside the law’ (p vii). Renton argues that the only way to protect workers is to reduce the inequality of bargaining power between workers and employers, and to achieve this trade unions themselves must have more bargaining power, which to be effective needs to be backed up by a willingness to strike. Renton argues that employment tribunals provide only limited protection to workers because tribunals are necessarily concerned only with the rights of the individual bringing the claim, only look backward to compensating for a wrong already committed, and the employment tribunal system is a formal legalistic environment where employers do better than employees.
Renton begins his project by providing an overview of the historical and political background behind the creation of industrial tribunals, and specifically the right to claim unfair dismissal. He summarises how the Donovan Committee came into being, emphasising that both its remit and recommendations were concerned with reducing the number of strikes because of their perceived disruptive effects on production. This is not a detailed history, but for a modern employment practitioner, aware that this Committee’s recommendations set the foundation stone for the creation of unfair dismissal, it makes interesting reading that the first suggestion of the creation of individual employment rights before the Committee was made after they had been meeting for two years, and was initially greeted with strong opposition by most of their members (pp 29–30)…
This book is undoubtedly a worthwhile and entertaining read for any employment lawyer interested in thinking outside the box, and having their assumptions challenged. Whilst many employment lawyers, and particularly those with a respondent background, will object to Renton’s analysis and proposals for reform, this book is a refreshing, if controversial, attempt at explaining what is wrong with the current system
Anna Macey, writing in the new issue of Industrial Law Journal
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Thursday 10th May 2012 at 6:00am
by Dave Smith, blacklisted former construction worker
by David Renton
Pluto Press, £17.50
Anyone who’s been a trade unionist as long as I have will have lost count of the speeches they’ve heard haranguing “out of touch” judges.
They will be familiar with condemnations of employment laws passed “by the ruling class to protect the ruling class”.
But at the same time we quote breaches of regulations as if the law could save us from redundancies or discrimination.
Media myths encourage inflated expectations that courts will deliver justice, or at least considerable financial compensation.
The truth is that in most cases they won’t. And David Renton explains why.
He provides a history and a withering critique of the employment tribunal system, using official documents and experiences from real life cases.
He goes through every step of the process—from filling in the first “ET1” form to the miniscule compensation awarded to successful claimants.
Renton shows why the system repeatedly fails to deliver satisfactory outcomes.
Whether it’s unfair dismissal or discrimination claims, this book explains how the system is stacked against workers even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing.
It was written before the recent changes to the tribunal system. These changes will only make things worse.
Renton has experience both as a lawyer and in the trade union movement.
This gives him the opportunity to see the system from two distinct points of view. It is what makes the book so insightful and so useful.
Employment rights are best defended by building strong trade union organisation, using mobilisation in the workplace and collective bargaining to protect workers’ interests.
Struck Out comes as a much-needed polemic against an overreliance on employment tribunals to deliver justice for workers.
At a time when trade union finances are being stretched, let’s hope the book provokes a debate about where resources should be targeted.
(published in Socialist Worker, 12 May 2012)
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Monday 23rd April 2012 at 6:00am
[From Islington Tribune, 20 April 2012]
With more people facing the sack, a barrister claims staff will find it increasingly difficult – and expensive – to claim unfair dismissal writes Peter Gruner.
Things may be bad on the jobs front, but they are about to get a whole lot worse, according to employment barrister David Renton.
Renton, a leading figure in the anti-cuts campaign in Islington, warns in his new book that the coalition government is planning to make it more difficult for aggrieved workers to get a hearing at an employment tribunal.
Those who want to go to a tribunal will for the first time be charged between £800 and £1500 – and that’s before they fork out for a lawyer, as they are not entitled to Legal Aid.
Ironically, it was the Tories who first introcyded the employment tribunal under Edward Heath, as part of the much criticised Industrial Relations Act.
Renton’s book is entitled Struck Out: Why Employment Tribunals Fail Workers and What Can Be Done. He practises at Garden Court Chambers, Lincoln Inn’s Fields.
He said: “Tribunals are meant to provide workers who feel they have been unfairly treated by their employers with an opportunity to seek justice.”
“But these new fees will deter many cash-strapped workers who can’t afford to apply. Twice as many people are being sacked as five years ago, according to the Office of National Statistics.”
Renton slams the Coalition’s so-called reforms saying: “They will not improve access to justice and will simply reduce the rights of vulnerable workers.”
The changes to the system are beingurged by those who claim that tribunals are dubious, weak or vexatious, and that the average cost to an employer of defending a tribunal claim is £125,000 per claim. But 60 per cent of tribunal cases that made it to a hearing in 2010-2011 succeeded.
Renton said, “The figure of £125,000 per claim was the guess of a single personnel manager in one large company. The average awards for dismissal and discrimination claims are actually just £4,500 and £7,000.
“Of the 40,000-plus unfair dismissal claims before a tribunal in 2010-11, only eight concliuded with orders reinstating or re-engaging the claimant.”
The level of tribunal awards if “appallingly” low, says Renton.
“The average wage in the UK is around £24,000; most claims take a year to be heard, and mst claimants are unemployed through the whole of the year”, he said.
“But the median award for unfair dismissal was just £4,591 in 2010-2011.”
This compensation gap is the product, Renton says, of “old-fashioned rules on compensation, which are intended to make sure that workers leave the system significantly out of pocket.”
Much needs to bchanged, Renton says but the proposed reforms are going “exactly the wrong way about it.”
This book has much support. Profesor Simon Deakin of the University of Cambridge, who is the editor of the Industrial Law Journal says: “it will be essential reading for its empirically grounded and dispassionate analysis of what has gone wrong and how it might be put right.”
And according to Professor Linda Clarke of the University of Westminster: “David Renton’s new book is very approachable and readable. It opens up employment law to students and employees alike.”
Renton has appeared in some of the most high-profile employment cases of recent years.
[Many thanks to Peter Gruner for the piece, which was based on a telephone interview with me. Eagle-eyed readers will of course have spotted that workers with tribunal cases are currently entitled to legal help, albeit not representation. That right is being constrained, but not abolished, by LASPO].
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