An alert system that has helped detect and stop devastating workplace illnesses such as asbestos poisoning is under attack, says Unite the Union.
The government proposes to increase the small claims threshold for workplace injuries meaning few workers will be able to take action against an employer.
It wants to raise the threshold from £1,000 to £2,000 with a higher threshold of £5,000 to workers involved in road accidents such as paramedics, bus drivers, lorry drivers and couriers.
Unite has been told by the government that these changes will be made via secondary legislation off the back of the Civil Liability Bill.
Unite argued that small civil claims against employers have performed a key check and balance in preserving and improving workplace safety.
A spokesperson said: ‘History has shown that it’s a series of compensation claims that have forced the industry and government to take on an issue.
‘An example we use is asbestos and the large number of claims made for plural plaques, scarring of the lungs. The compensation was quite low but there were lots of claimants, which forced action.
‘If you can’t make these claims then there is no pressure on these industries to deal with these issues.’
The Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘Compensation in personal injury cases should be fair and proportionate, and making a claim should be as simple as possible.
‘That is why we are making the system fairer for all – not least the taxpayer – and increasing the support available for claimants.’
MOJ has said the new limits have been adjusted from 1991 figures in line with inflation but Unite has said MOJ has incorrectly calculated the rise.
Unite said an in-line with inflation rise would be £1,500.
The union argued that the threshold was last adjusted in 1999, which is when MOJ ought to have calculated the rise from.
When the threshold was last adjusted in 1999 it was kept at £1,000 because at the same time the government shook-up the system to exclude financial losses.
Unite said this adjustment represented a 20 percent increase in the threshold.
If a worker is only able to claim statutory sick pay the, loss of earnings could run into thousands of pounds.
Unite said injuries likely to fall below the £2,000 limit include: minor brain damage, psychiatric damage, collapsed lung, food poisoning, broken nose and loss of some teeth.
Those excluded by the £5,000 limit 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.
The MOJ has said the separate limit of £5,000 for driving injuries is aimed to reduce false claims. Unite has described it as a ‘double whammy’ for road workers as it means they could be killed and their loved ones would receive no compensation.