Women are facing “impossible” barriers to challenge workplace harassment with the number of sex discrimination cases falling sharply after the introduction of fees for employment tribunals, say campaigners in Scotland.

Figures from the UK Government show there were 8,380 sex discrimination cases taken to employment tribunals in 2015/16.

But that is a sizeable drop of nearly 20% from the previous year’s figure of 10,231.

The statistics serves to highlight a continuing trend of a fall in sex discrimination cases - which is also mirrored in other workplace complaints - ever since fees for employment tribunals were first introduced by the UK Government three years ago.

It can now cost as much as £1200 to obtain a hearing leaving some to brand the system "worthless" if it prevents women from fighting back.

A major survey from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Everyday Sexism Project only last week found more than half of women have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace - including incidences of groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes.

For women and girls aged 16-24, the proportion rose to nearly two-thirds – 63%.

Emma Ritch, executive director of Scottish feminist organisation Engender, said the number of sex discrimination cases had fallen by 91% in the year immediately following the introduction of employment tribunal fees – and the new statistics show it had continued to fall.

She said: “For many women, particularly those in the lowest-paid jobs, paying £1200 upfront in fees to get a tribunal hearing is simply impossible.

"This immense barrier to justice has an obvious link with the disturbing sexual harassment findings published earlier this week.

“Most women don't report sexual harassment to their employer. The tribunal fees regime all but ensures that employers who fail to address toxic workplace cultures can evade their responsibilities with impunity.”

Alastair Pringle, Scotland director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said legal rights are “worthless” if there is no access to justice when they are breached.

He added: “This clearly shows that the system is not working and individuals are being priced out of the justice system.

“The Ministry of Justice launched its review into the impact of employment tribunal fees on 11 June 2015, over 14 months ago.

“We have been calling for the UK Government to publish the results of this review as a matter of urgency and take action to address the financial barriers to accessing justice for women experiencing discrimination.”

Ian Tasker, assistant secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said: “The fact that people have to put up £1200 we always said was going to be a barrier to justice, irrespective of whether it is sex discrimination or any other workplace complaint – and we have been proved right.

“Employment tribunals are about getting justice for the individual – but when judgements are made and widely publicised it acts as a deterrent to other employers and ensures they have got their house in order.

“Our concern is that with the drastic reduction in cases, hearings are not taking place. “The nature of these complaints in the workplace are in all likelihood still taking place, but they are not coming to the surface.”

Campaigners have welcomed a commitment by the Scottish Government to removing the fees when employment tribunals are devolved, although a timescale for this has not yet been given.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We will abolish fees for employment tribunals, when we are clear on how the transfer of powers and responsibilities will work.

“We recently consulted on the shape of services that best support people's access to employment justice, as part of the transfer of the powers for employment tribunals to Scotland.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said it was committed to publishing the review into the impact of employment tribunal fees.

He added: “We have noted there has been some critical commentary from the Justice Select committee in England and Wales about our delays in publishing this. It will be published in due course.”

Here are some examples of workplace sexual harassment which have been gathered by the Everyday Sexism project:

“I am a cleaner at a construction site. There are only a handful of women working here and am surrounded by hundreds of men every day. I am a victim of sexism every day. Most of the time I keep my mouth shut and ignore it, but this morning two of the men were talking about a woman who works in the offices. The stuff they were saying was extremely vulgar, it made me sick to my stomach. So I stepped in and defended her. They preceded to call me stuck up and a ‘feminazi’ and that I need to lighten up (those being the nicest of the comments). Word spread throughout the site and I am now hiding in the storage cupboard seriously considering quitting my job because I’ve not gone ten minutes today without someone calling me a name or telling me to make my life easier by just shutting up and keeping my opinions to myself.”

“I have worked in a popular Asian chain restaurant for about eight years. About six months or so into my employment I was serving a table of five lads, and at a loss as to what to do with the chopsticks provided one guy used them to demonstrate to the rest of the table how I had disappointingly small breasts by poking my left breast multiple times. As the table erupted in laughter I left and informed a male supervisor of what had happened, he smiled and shrugged at me and refused to either kick the customers out or take over the table for me. I had to go back to these men and finish taking the order, which I did whilst visibly shaking. After the event I was pulled aside by the General Manager and asked if I understood why the supervisor had done nothing. He informed me that due to the fact that we were a new restaurant and the financial crisis had just struck we needed to keep all the customers we had happy.”

“I was cleaning tables outside and a guy came up to me and said “I was gonna touch your arse but I’ll just think about it whilst w**king later”. When I told my manager, she said – “he says it to all the young girls. I’m not going to bar him because he’s one of our regulars, just ignore it”.”

“I am 19 and work at a golf club where most of the members tend to be older and retired men. One event I did recently, the Captain (in his 60s) was drinking. As the evening progressed he gradually became more and more inappropriate…During the speeches for the presentation he thanked me for serving drinks and “finishing him off later”, to which everyone laughed while I just stood there unsure what to do. Then afterwards he started asking me for a lift home…My manager was there and he didn’t do anything because ‘he was just joking and drunk’. The next time I was in I was told that the captain was embarrassed by his actions but I didn’t get an apology or spoken to about it. And yet nothing has happened.”

“Yesterday at work, my creeper of a boss crept up behind me, placed his hands on my side and started kissing my cheek, all while asking for coffee. I shook him off and quickly moved away. Not long after a male colleague of mine asked if he could kiss me “just on the cheek, because [he was] in a good mood”. Repulsed, I immediately and without hesitation replied that no, he most certainly could not. And he demanded to know why not and asked again if he could kiss me…I’m on my way out the door right now to print CVs and look for another job.”