Unite, the UK’s largest union, is accusing the government of using a bill due to return to the Commons this week, to shield employers who play ‘fast and loose’ with the safety of workers from having to pay compensation to those they injure.

Civil Liability bill

The proposals are covered by the Civil Liability bill which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons tomorrow (Tuesday 4 September). Although not formally part of the bill the government has said there will be an increase in the small claims limit.

The small claims limit is currently set at £1,000, which means that very few workplace injury claims are caught by the limit. The government is proposing to increase this to £2,000 and £5,000 for all road traffic cases.

Injuries which are likely to fall below the proposed £2,000 limit include: minor brain damage, psychiatric damage, collapsed lung, food poisoning, broken nose and loss of some teeth.

Injuries which would be excluded by the £5,000 limit set for drivers include: being instantly killed, some forms of post-traumatic stress disorder, minor eye injuries, toxic fumes and smoke inhalation leading to some lung damage, broken wrist and some facial disfigurement.

Secondary legislation

The increase in the small claims limit would be undertaken through so-called secondary legislation, denying MPs a proper say on a devastating attack on workplace justice.

Workers who are employed in driving roles including paramedics, bus drivers, lorry drivers and couriers face a double whammy. As they will have to suffer very severe injuries which are worth over £5,000 before a claim could be effectively taken.

Unlike in road traffic accidents and the notorious high number of claims for whiplash injuries, which the bill is meant to tackle, there is no culture of fake compensation claims, with regards to workplace injuries.

If the changes are introduced it will become very difficult to hold unsafe employers to account. As a consequence workers are more likely to consider industrial action to win compensation if workplace injuries occur.

Dangerous bosses

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The government is shielding dangerous bosses from justice. Bad bosses who play fast and loose with workers lives will be able to escape paying compensation on the majority of workplace injuries.

“The proposed changes will save the government’s friends in the insurance industry millions in compensation claims, which is nice work if you can get it, while making workplaces more dangerous.

“Drivers and other road workers are facing a double whammy with their limit being set at £5,000 meaning they could be killed and their loved ones denied any compensation.

“Trade union personal injury cases are one small measure through which workers who are injured at work as a direct result of bosses’ actions can achieve justice.

“If workers can’t receive compensation for their injuries, they will also be denied claiming compensation for loss of earnings. Bad bosses will know that even if they injure a worker they won’t have to pay them their wages while they recover.

“Previously in cases such as asbestos diseases it was only the sheer weight of claims for lower levels of damage which finally forced the government to act to ban the substance.

“Developing areas of serious workplace dangers such as aerotoxic incidents and exposure to diesel fumes, are much less likely to be tackled if workers can’t claim compensation for damage to their health.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

The small claims limit is crucial as costs above the limit are funded by the other side, if the claim is successful (in cases of workplace injuries this would be the employer or their insurer). If the level of injury does not meet the limit then the individual would have to pay their own legal costs.

This small claims limit applies purely to the compensation awarded for the injury suffered and does not include any loss of earnings as a result of the injury. A minimum of 40 per cent of trade union workplace injury cases would be affected by a £2,000 limit.

The proposed increase in the small claims limit will only apply to workers who suffer an injury in England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there are separate legal systems and there is no small claims limit. The government’s reforms will therefore create an even greater two-tier playing field when it comes to workplace justice.

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org