A new book by a leading employment barrister calls for debate in the trade union movement about the role of employment tribunals as government changes are expected to make it even tougher for workers to win cases.
David Renton, from Garden Court Chambers, predicts increased industrial action as an already flawed system provides even fewer workers with a place to settle grievances.
Renton was inspired to write Struck Out five years ago, following a speech by Gordon Brown where the then chancellor characterised the system as out of control. Renton says this “rank opportunism”, based on a false premise, has allowed the press to print a distorted picture ever since.
Using testimony and official documents the book gives a succinct history of the tribunal system and its current operation. Renton explains its key decisions and punctures the myths around it. In it, and on the accompanying blog, he also charts the impact government changes will have.
“It will be nice to think that workers will think ‘we are still suffering injustice but we can’t initiate claims so we will do what we say in the book; we will go back and strengthen our unions and where appropriate we will take industrial action’, which I very much see as an alternative to the tribunals. But you also need to be realistic. The government’s calculation is that the unions are weakened and so people aren’t going to properly resist these reforms.”
Renton believes that unions have for too long taken up a default position of defending tribunals – because no-one else does – when often they don’t serve worker interests.
“I want there to be a policy discussion and a lively debate going on within the trade union movement,” he says. “Trade unionists may disagree with parts of the book, but I want people talking and arguing and emerging with a different vision about how things might be. If we don’t have that, the press will come up with these lies and there is no alternative vision and the system will get successively reworked in a direction that is hostile to trade unionism.”
* Struck Out: Why employment tribunals fail workers and what can be done is published by Pluto Press