Gender discrimination claims ‘overload’ employment tribunal

The employment tribunal system is buckling under the pressure of thousands of women who are bringing claims of gender discrimination against their employers, reports The Independent.

According to the newspaper, the number of cases heard by the tribunal doubled between 2005 and 2006, while “thousands” of cases are in a waiting list.

Jenny Watson, who will be chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission until it is wound up in October, says that this demonstrates that employers must be made to audit their payrolls, identify cases of unequal pay and rectify the problem. All good stuff.

But here’s a little snippet which I’m not so sure about. Watson goes on to say that in return for undertaking the audits, employers should be given a “protected period” when individuals cannot make claims:

In return for accepting a legal obligation to check their pay systems are free from discrimination and taking robust steps to put their house in order should they find they have a problem, we think employers should have some breathing space from individual claims for a limited period.

On a practical level, this may be necessary. After all, by acknowledging the problem, companies would be opening themselves up to claims. But any such provisions would have to come with strong caveats. What if cases of discrimination are identified, but not properly or fairly rectified? What if current wages are changed, but women are not compensated for the years of being underpaid? The terms of any such amnesty on discriminatory employers must protect the workforce, or it will become a dodge for companies.