Unfair dismissal cases soar in the 'hire-and-fire' era

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Successful claims for unfair dismissal have increased by more than 50 per cent over the past decade, a Labour analysis of a government parliamentary answer reveals today.

The figures, showing a rise of 54 per cent in verdicts for complainants over the years 1986/7 to 1994/5, led the TUC to accuse employers of taking an increasingly cavalier attitude to sackings and of adopting the "hire- and-fire" approach encouraged by the Government's drive towards deregulation.

The analysis, drawn up from a Commons reply by Jonathan Evans, the trade and industry minister, to Ian McCartney, a Labour employment spokesman, shows the number of successful unfair dismissal cases rose in all areas of England, Scotland and Wales, more than doubling in four of the 12 tribunal areas.

The biggest percentage increase in successful claims came in the Southampton area with a rise of 138 per cent, while the largest numerical increase was in London North, which saw a 499.3 per cent rise in total claims considered by tribunals at hearings. The total number of tribunal claims of all kinds considered in hearings rose by 90.1 per cent. Mr McCartney said: "The figures highlight why job insecurity has spread like a plague across every part of the UK, and is holding back any prospect of lasting recovery."

Since 1 June 1985, workers must have been continuously employed for two years to make an unfair dismissal claim; similar rights were given to part-timers from February this year.

But Mr McCartney emphasised the number of cases reaching industrial tribunals did not include the 882,257 requests to citizens' advice bureaux for help with employment problems last year, or instances where trade unions took them up.

Mr McCartney said that in its drive for deregulation, the Government had discouraged the resolution of disputes at local level, leaving tribunals as the only option for employees.

John Monks, TUC general secretary, said: "These figures show that employers are becoming increasingly confident about sacking workers. Far more people are having to fight their corner against employers with a hire-and-fire attitude encouraged by this government's deregulatory approach to the labour market.

"Too many cases go to industrial tribunals because workers do not have union, or indeed any representation in the workplace in disputes with their employers."

The TUC believes employers are taking a more cavalier attitude towards tribunal claims because the maximum award for unfair dismissal (pounds 22,480 for 26 years' employment) has not kept pace with inflation or average earnings. The low levels of compensation also encourage employers not to comply with reinstatement orders, originally intended to be the chief remedy for unfair dismissal.

Separate figures obtained by Mr McCartney from the Commons library show initial applications to industrial tribunals totalled 29,304 in 1988/89, but had more than trebled to 88,061 by 1994/95.