Better access to justice drives TUC Day of Action


Faced with employees' growing difficulties in accessing justice and claiming compensation for workplace injury and illness, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for a "Day of Action".

The TUC claims the government is tabling 3 proposals to remove workers' rights. The first, compensation for injury or illness, will make it harder to claim compensation for injuries or illnesses sustained at work.

The government says the law must change because a compensation culture is leaving employers risk averse and in constant fear of lawsuits.

Access to Justice - Compensations Claims

The Prime Minister has insisted that "the chain of blame-recrimination-compensation is spiralling out of control". However, the Congress believes that most workers are reluctant to claim damages after an illness or injury caused by their employer.

Claims by workers against their employers after an injury or illness have been falling steadily for over a decade, while government statistics show that employer liability claims fell from 219,183 in 2000/1 to 81,470 in 2000/11.

It has also been estimated that just 1 out of 10 workers claim compensation for injury or illness at work.

Despite this, the government intends to press on with the reforms set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, including changes to the rules covering personal injury claims.

The TUC believes that the proposals will severely compromise access to justice for many working people and could prove disastrous for those seeking compensation because of injuries at work caused by employers' negligence.

In a statement on its website, the TUC said trades unions also want to see fewer compensation claims. "But that is because we do not want workers to have any reason to claim. If the government did more to force employers to stop breaking health and safety laws there would be far fewer injuries and illnesses caused by work and there would be far fewer claims."

The government also intends to reduce payments currently available under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. Although such sums rarely exceed about £1,000, they can be claimed by workers who have been victims of violence as a result of their work and tube workers coping with the trauma of suicides in front of their trains.

A consultation document states that the government would like to remove from the scheme some 17,000 victims of violent crime yearly. Many who still qualify will find cuts to their compensation, so even people with minor brain damage face reduced payments.

The TUC's third concern is that the government wants to inhibit compensation for unfair dismissal, victimisation of safety representatives and where employers refuse to agree to safety representatives' training. The Congress says this is unfair, given the large sums in compensation received by chief executives who resign or are sacked due to poor performance.

"Lesser mortals have only been able to look on with envy," said the TUC. "However, when workers are sacked unfairly they have at least been able to rely on their unions and, as a last resort, an employment tribunal. The government wants to either stop that or make it more expensive."

To defend health and safety and bring workers' concerns to the government's attention, the TUC is mounting a Day of Action on 28 April 2012: International Workers' Memorial Day, when workers traditionally remember the dead and fight for the living.

"Never has that message been more important than now," said the TUC in its statement. "Let's ensure that we make it clear that we want clear commitments and action from those who should be protecting us."

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