The Scottish government has published its programme for 2015-2016: “A Stronger Scotland”. The programme sets out the policies, actions and legislation which it intends to take forward in the next year.
Abolishing tribunal fees
One objective is to establish a more level playing field in the workplace. Having established a Fair Work Convention in April this year, the government is focused on developing what it calls a ‘Fair Work Agenda’. As part of that initiative it intends to abolish employment tribunal fees.
The Scottish government views employment tribunal fees as a barrier to access to justice but presently employment law is not a devolved matter over which the Scottish government has control The abolition of fees will take place when the government is clear on how the further transfer of powers and responsibilities from Westminster will work. Negotiations regarding further devolved powers are ongoing. Therefore, the intention to abolish fees may be definite but the timescale less so.
Effect of abolition of fees
Logic would indicate that the huge drop off in the number of claims lodged following the introduction of fees will be reversed. The news will be welcomed by employees and unions. This is not good news for employers for whom workplace disputes had become less laden with risk and cost with the advent of fees.
Might we see Claimant’s from the rest of the UK trying to pursue claims in Scotland to avoid paying a fee? This will not be easy for most because the place of work usually dictates where the claim must be brought. Those who live and work in England will not find it easy to bring their claims in Scotland. The position may be less clear for those who work in England for Scottish based employers or for those who work in England for employers with Scottish premises or branches, particularly where their work takes them to Scotland from time to time. This may lead to interesting satellite litigation as employees outwith Scotland attempt to avoid the requirement to pay fees.
Extending the equality duty
The Scottish government also intends to extend the duty on public authorities to publish gender pay gap information, statements on equal pay and occupational segregation. These duties currently apply to authorities with more than 150 employees but this is to be extended to authorities with more than 20 employees.
The programme also aims to deal with gender imbalance. In particular, the government intends to (i) secure devolved powers to legislate for gender balance on boards; and (ii) build membership of its voluntary Partnership for Change scheme, which aims to assist public, private and third sector bodies in achieving a “50/50” representation by 2020.
The extension of the equality duty to authorities with more than 20 employees should encourage greater transparency in pay and promotion however, as is the case with Westminster’s proposals on bridging the gender pay gap, how the data is captured and reported will be central to the impact that the proposed measures will have.