Tribunal cases soar as staff use the law on the working week

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Claims heard at employment tribunals over the European Union Working Time Directive have surged 10-fold, new figures show.

The data, compiled by the Employment Tribunals Service, shows that 35,474 claims were made during the 2005-06 financial year, up from 3,223 in the previous year.

Equal-pay cases have also surged, more than doubling year- on-year to 17,268. And overall, the total number of claims is up by a third, to 115,039, reversing a previous downward trend.

Stefan Cross, an employment solicitor who runs his own specialist legal firm, said the rise in cases was down to multiple claims. This is where several people make similar complaints against the same employer, especially local authorities and the NHS. Mr Cross has already acted for thousands of women bringing equal- pay claims.

The number of claims will continue to rise, he predicts. "There's likely to be an even bigger increase because there have already been 21,000 more equal- pay cases started against the NHS alone since March."

Further legislation is also being introduced, including the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, which guard against age discrimination. This law comes into force on 1 October.

The EU Working Time Directive, which became UK law in 1998, regulates entitlement to holidays and breaks. It also, broadly speaking, limits an employee's average working week to 48 hours.

The Employment Tribunals Service also reported that there had been 41,832 unfair-dismissal claims, up from 39,727. The typical unfair-dismissal award increased from £3,476 to £4,228. The maximum is £58,400.

The typical award for disability discrimination, where there is no maximum limit, increased from £7,500 to £9,021.

The highest award during the 2005-06 year was £138,650. But that has already been beaten this year. Former CNN producer Elena Cosentino won £250,000 for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal from the London operation of the US broadcasting giant.

The tribunal found that Ms Cosentino had been sacked because she was medically unable to work continuous overnight shifts. In an unusual decision for employment tribunals, it ordered CNN to pay the bulk of her legal costs.