Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

Maureen Dowd argues in the New York Times that the Clintons' renewed rivalry and the increasingly visceral attacks on Barack Obama's health-care plan prove that the president can't transcend old divisions.

The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished.

In the Times, Roy Hattersley recalls the day he signed the order that was to keep troops in Northern Ireland for 35 years.

It was almost 20 years later that I first met Gerry Adams ... We got on famously until he expressed his regret at the animosity that he was shown by Northern Ireland Protestants. Even when I asked him how he expected them to react to photographs of him carrying the coffin of an IRA bomber who (in a mixture of evil and incompetence) had killed two children, he calmly replied that it was his duty to pay respects to a "dead volunteer". Only after I said that too many Irishmen were obsessed by death did I fear that he was going to have me shot.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal exposes the Conservatives who want to privatise the NHS.

This sort of wing-nuttery has become mainstream within the Conservative party here. Why doesn't Cameron say anything about it? Why don't the media hold him to account for his own people's views.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne argues that the failure of the US government to suspend military and economic aid to the Honduran coup leaders proves that Latin American radicals can't rely on Obama for support.

It's clear that the Obama administration could pull the plug on the coup regime tomorrow by suspending military aid and imposing sanctions. But so far, despite public condemnations, the president has yet to withdraw the US ambassador, let alone block the coup leaders' visas or freeze their accounts, as Zelaya has requested.

Adrian Hamilton argues in the Independent that the failure of sanctions to deliver political change in Sudan, North Korea and Zimbabwe demonstrates why the west shouldn't impose new constraints on Burma.

You would be hard put to find any evidence that they've done anything to change policy in those countries. If anything you could argue that they've actually retrenched repressive regimes by enabling them to tighten control of import revenues and present themselves to their people as victims of international aggression.

 

 

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.