UNISON is celebrating a landmark victory after a Supreme Court ruling that employment fees are unlawful, and the government will now have to repay up to £32m to claimants.

The coalition government introduced employment tribunal fees in July 2013 to ‘reduce the number of malicious and weak cases’, but that led to a 79% reduction over three years. UNISON argued that the fees prevented workers getting access to justice.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is absolutely a tremendous victory, it’s probably the biggest victory of employment rights in this country.”

The Supreme Court also found the fees were indirectly discriminatory to women, because a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases. It also ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees.

Tribunal fees ranged between £390 and £1,200 to get a case heard at a hearing. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time that the hearings took.

Commenting before the hearing, Dave Prentis had said: “If an employer breaks the law and treats one of their employees unfairly, they should be challenged. It cannot be right that unscrupulous bosses are escaping punishment because people simply don’t have the money to pursue a case.

“The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. It has denied many thousands of people the right to seek justice. Bad employers are having a field day, safe in the knowledge that few will be able to afford to challenge them at a tribunal.

“The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is penalise lower-paid employees with genuine grievances.”