The Government sparked controversy today by announcing a fee of up to £1,200 for taking claims to an employment tribunal.
Unions branded the decision a "disgrace" and warned that workers would be denied their right to justice.
Business groups welcomed the move, but complained that most claimants would be exempt from the new rules.
Ministers pointed out that tribunals cost the taxpayer more than £84 million a year, with no contribution from those taking claims.
Cases involving unpaid wages and redundancy pay will have an initial fee of £160 and a charge of £230 if it goes to a hearing, while those relating to unfair dismissal, discrimination complaints and equal pay claims will have an issue fee of £250 and a hearing fee of £950.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: "It's not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £84 million bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal.
"We want people, where they can, to pay a fair contribution for the system they are using, which will encourage them to look for alternatives.
"It is in everyone's interest to avoid drawn-out disputes which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses. That's why we are encouraging quicker, simpler and cheaper alternatives like mediation."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "It is vital that working people have fair access to justice, but introducing fees for tribunals will deter many - particularly those on low wages - from taking valid claims to court. Many of the UK's most vulnerable workers will simply be priced out of justice.
"The Government's remission scheme to protect low-paid employees is woefully inadequate, and workers will be more likely to be mistreated at work as rogue bosses will be able to flout the law without fear of sanction."
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "This is a disgraceful move that tips the scales of justice heavily towards employers, and denies legal redress to those who do not have the cash to pay for it.
"Because we do not have class actions in this country, Unison has been involved in lodging equal pay claims for hundreds and thousands of women. If those women did not have union backing, and had to pay up front for access to justice, many would have lost out."
Alexander Ehmann of the Institute of Directors, said: "The IoD strongly supports the Government's decision to introduce user fees for employment tribunals to make people think twice before submitting vexatious or weak claims. Businesses are too often forced to defend themselves against claims which have no merit, incurring heavy costs in the process.
"However, the IoD is concerned that under current proposals many unemployed claimants will have their fees waived despite having the means to pay. Even the Government accepts this could mean that the majority of claimants are exempt from their new rules - a result that would undermine the entire purpose."
Tim Thomas of the EEF manufacturers' organisation, said: "Fees are one way to encourage more responsible behaviour by tribunal users.
"Employers have faced a steep rise in speculative claims in recent years, many of which are withdrawn or struck out leaving employers picking up the bill. Claimants risk little under the current system. Fees, if properly introduced, will help check this rise.
"However, the current remission system will result in most claimants paying little or nothing, and whilst we welcome the Government's intention to consult on changes in the autumn, unless most claimants have to pay at least some fee, today's announcement will have little impact."
The Welsh Government's counsel general, Theodore Huckle QC, said the decision to charge up to £1,200 to take a case before an employment tribunal will undermine the principle of free access to justice.
"True and free access to justice for all citizens, whether their claims are popular or unpopular, is an integral part of the democratic settlement in the UK. This decision totally undermines that principle.
"The process of approaching a legal court or tribunal is off-putting for most citizens. The thought of doing so without direct legal advisory support and representation is daunting in the extreme.
"To be required to do so and pay substantial fees as well in advance will undoubtedly deter many applicants with good claims who will thereby be denied access to justice," he said.
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