A Government proposal which would undermine the rights of injured workers returns to the House of Commons tomorrow (Tuesday 16 April) after being thrown out by the House of Lords.
The Government plan will put the burden of proving an employer has caused needless injury or death back onto the victim. This tilts the playing field in favour of negligent bosses, who hold all the cards, and against vulnerable workers, who hold none. The employer always has the upper hand - he controls the workplace, he controls the work equipment used, and knows all the systems of the business inside out.
“This proposal is grossly unfair,” said Karl Tonks, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). “It will make bringing some valid claims for compensation extremely difficult, and many people are likely to shy away from bringing a claim altogether.
“It is the duty of employers to provide safe workplaces, not the duty of employees to keep negligent bosses in check,” he went on. “Peers recognised the problems the Government’s proposal would cause during detailed debate in the House of Lords and MPs must understand that if the House of Lords amendment isn’t accepted tomorrow, many injured workers could be deterred from claiming the damages they need to put their lives back on track, leaving the state to pick up the tab.
“It will not cut ‘red-tape’ for business: cases which do go ahead will take longer, they will be more complicated, and inevitably costs will be higher. Prosecutions for workplace accidents are already few and far between, and if it becomes harder to claim compensation as well, negligent employers will be even less accountable for their actions. Rogue bosses are likely to take advantage by cutting corners with health and safety requirements.” The proposal was defeated in the House of Lords, where Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Haywood, a former Supreme Court Justice, highlighted the difficulties experienced by workers in proving the negligence of their employers. He said that, when he worked as a barrister, a number claims were lost “because the claimants were not able to assemble all the evidence necessary to prove actual negligence.”
Tonks went on, “Lord Brown’s comments go to the heart of the matter. People injured through no fault of their own will find it extremely challenging to secure justice. If MPs don’t support the lords’ conclusions tomorrow, the effects are likely to be profound, with unintended consequences which will not just affect the workers involved, but society as a whole.”