In a letter dated the 17 November 2016, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, writes to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss MP, addressing his serious concerns over the government’s proposed plans to increase the compensation threshold for small claims from £1,000 to £5,000.
This letter was also referenced in a Mirror news article.
17 November 2016
The Right Honourable Elizabeth Truss MP
Lord Chancellor & Secretary of State for Justice
102 Petty France
Dear Lord Chancellor
Personal Injury: Small Claims Track Limit
I am concerned by the announcement today that the Government are now planning to proceed with proposals to increase the compensation threshold for small claims from £1,000 to £5,000. This is in relation to injuries suffered by individuals through the fault, and negligence, of others.
Crucially this proposal includes workplace accidents. This is despite initial proposals saying the rise would relate specifically to whiplash claims only.
As you would expect Unite, as the UK’s largest union with 1.4 million members, cannot accept an increase in the small claims limit in cases concerning workplace accident and disease.
The principles of the small claims provisions are that injuries are so minor, and cases so straightforward, as to not need legal representation. Patently that is not true of workplace accidents, and diseases, where the employer and insurance company have substantial resources to defend any legal action.
Unite looks after the most dangerous of workplaces. We do not seek legal action against employers and insurers, but it is essential that we are able to protect our members where necessary. The suggested threshold increase for workplace injuries will inevitably undermine health and safety regulations, which originated as a British tradition over 150 years ago, and lead to more accidents and disease for which injured people cannot secure justice.
Put simply, it would be a health and safety disaster if concerns over whiplash injuries are allowed to enable employers to relax safety standards in the workplace.
Nor is it correct to describe any workplace accident, be that one that demands compensation for injury under the proposed compensation threshold, as a small claim. The protection afforded to workers from all personal injury litigation is a key part of the balance to ensure the maintenance of health and safety standards in the workplace.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the risk of exposure to asbestos in the workplace. It was not mesothelioma litigation, which entitles individuals to substantial compensation, that resulted in employers recognising and responding to the risks of exposure to asbestos in the workplace, it was instead the pleural plaque litigation which resulted (then) in limited levels of compensation.
Unite is presently involved in litigation in the Civil Aviation Sector for members who have been poisoned in flight by contaminated cabin air. This is vital litigation for the health of our cabin crew in the workplace, and for the health of business and other frequent flyers. Commonly the symptoms from contaminated air – aerotoxic syndrome - will be minor and see compensation awarded of less than five thousand pounds but this complex and expensive litigation is vital to protect those who would suffer much worse conditions, life changing or fatal, from being exposed to such contamination. Such litigation is essential for our members and for the wider public. Your proposed changes make this litigation less feasible.
Patently proposals that will have a negative impact on health and safety in the workplace, and inevitably make it more difficult for workers to hold their employer responsible for damaging their health, cannot be said to correlate with the Government’s stated agenda of helping workers.
The industrial fallout of such changes should not be underestimated.
I look forward to hearing that the Government will not in fact be attacking workers’ rights in this manner and would welcome the opportunity to meet to discuss this dangerous proposal.