WOMEN are being prevented from challenging sexual discrimination in the workplace by the introduction of costly employment tribunal fees which have led to a collapse in new claims, it has been warned.

The number of cases being taken to tribunals since the charges, which run to hundreds of pounds, were introduced in 2013, has fallen sharply, leading to mounting calls for the UK Government to scrap the system.

The fees have already been blamed for cutting the number of employment tribunal cases of any type by more than half.

Now fresh figures have shown a fall of 85 per cent in the number of sex discrimination claims brought before tribunals since the introduction of charges by the UK Government.

A total of 186 claims were heard between October and December 2012, commpared with just 27 in the same period last year.

Christina McKelvie, SNP MSP, said that women were being disproportionately affected by the fees and were effectively being barred from seeking justice.

She said: "These are deeply worrying figures showing clearly how the UK Government's unfair imposition of fees for employment tribunals is impeding access to justice for workers in Scotland - with women once again bearing the brunt of this government's callous attitude to employee's rights.

"Introducing fees for employment tribunals was always clearly a retrograde step - and these figures show clear evidence that the unfair, indefensible fees are hindering workers seeking the justice they deserve.

"And with a staggering 85 per cent fall in sex discrimination cases brought before employment tribunals, it couldn't be clearer that once again it is women who are paying the price.

"The idea that any woman should be prevented from seeking justice for sex discrimination in 21st century Scotland is simply unacceptable."

Under the fees system, it costs £160 or £250 to lodge a claim, depending on its complexity, and a further charge of £230 or £950 if the case goes to a hearing.

Recent research found there had been an 81 per cent overall drop in tribunal cases between January and April 2014 compared to the same quarter the previous year before the fees were introduced.

Ms McKelvie highlighted raised the issue of sex discrimination cases during a debate on employee rights in the Scottish Parliament.

Afterwards, she said that there was now an urgent case to have power over tribunal fees devolved to Scotland.

The MSP said: "This is exactly why we need powers over employment rights to devolved to Scotland, to allow us to take substantive action to protect the rights of workers and to put a stop to the seemingly endless Tory attacks on hard-working people - and I would hope that every progressive party in the Scottish Parliament can unite behind this common-sense idea."

During the debate, Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work Roseanna Cunningham said that the Scottish Government would work to protect employee rights and trade unions from the UK Government's "regressive, corrosive and oppressive approach".

The Law Society of Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and Unison have all previously spoken out against the fees.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, which has launched a review into the system, said: "It is right that hard-working taxpayers should not pick up the bill for employment disputes in tribunals.

"We have been very careful, however, to ensure those who have limited means have fee waivers and are not excluded from seeking redress.

"When we brought in the fees we pledged to carry out a review, and that review has started."