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Nicola Sturgeon announces plans to remove tribunal fees and other employment measures for Scotland

As part of her ‘Programme for Scotland’ speech delivered yesterday, the First Minister outlined a number of measures which the Scottish government intends will ‘place a strong – and growing – emphasis on fair work’.

Principally among them was a commitment to abolish employment tribunal fees as soon as the powers are available. That is expected to happen with the enactment of the current Scotland Bill, anticipated next spring but may require some changes to the current wording. This announcement comes shortly after the English Court of Appeal dismissed Unison’s attempt to judicially review the introduction of fees in England.

Should tribunal charges be removed, it will be interesting to see the effect on numbers of claims received by the Scottish tribunals, not only from Scottish-based workers but employees of UK-wide businesses who may see an opportunity in some cases to avoid English fees, typically £1,200 per claim. Whether and how any qualifying criteria would be introduced is still to be determined. The changes would form part of the current plans to devolve the functions of employment tribunals in Scotland from the UK administration to the newly created Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.

Sturgeon also proposed to extend the obligation to publish gender pay gap figures in the public sector to employers with 20 or more employees – currently the qualifying limit is 150 staff. There will be further promotion of a living wage, with increased targets for the number of employers in Scotland paying staff at that level. Similarly there will be initiatives to increase the number of apprenticeships.

She said that in the next six months the Fair Work Convention will put in place a new framework to manage relationships between employers, employees and trade unions, as well as public bodies and the government itself. She expressed the view that there would be vigorous opposition in Scotland to the UK government’s proposed legislation aimed at limiting trade union powers. That said, any such legislation remains in the domain of the UK parliament and would be debated and finalised there.

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