To lose one prime minister

Pakistan’s military are doing their damndest to prevent a civilian government reaching an unprecedented full-term.

On many levels the Zardari government, now less than a year away from full-term, has been doing quite well - with no will to solve the energy crisis but passing significant legislation that protects democracy, as opposed to military rule, in Pakistan.

The literal reporting by the international press of Pakistan’s prime ministerial woes – Yousuf Raza Gilani, after the longest PM-ship ever in Pakistan’s history was forced to stand down for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities over corruption charges relating to Zardari, his initial replacement Makhdoom Shahabuddin was blown straight out of the water when a judge ordered his arrest on illegal drug imports, but Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has now been appointed – has done nothing to tell the real story. 

For that you will have to read Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian, about the only voice of clarity available to UK readers. 

To lose one prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune but to have two headed off  looks like the military have been up to their old tricks. Caretaker governments were the stuff of military intervention after they had despatched civilian governments in what Musharraf called in his memoirs “that dreadful decade of democracy”. This is not quite a caretaker government, but as Hanif describes, the military are behind a revitalised supreme court that in the last six months has been in the business of attacking the Zardari government, while leaving military wrong-doings, such as questions over the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian minister for minorities, and the death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, on the back burner.

In mid-June the judicial commission tasked with looking into Memogate, the “documentation” provided by nude wrestling adjudicator  Mansoor Ijaz that the Zardari government through its civilian ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had tried to move against the military upheld Ijaz’s spurious claims.

It is not a coincidence that a week before the commission was due to announce its findings Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s leading human rights barrister, chief counsel for Husain Haqqani and contributor to the New Statesman, was made aware of a plan to assassinate her.

The background to memogate is here, Mansoor Ijaz’s track record of contributions to the Financial Times here.

Pakistan’s leading liberal daily, Tribune, ran the following editorial in mid-June:

It is in the nature of those [the military] opposed to civilian rule to change the subject from their misdeeds. In this case, the distraction was memogate and the scapegoat was Husain Haqqani.

Twittersphere followed up: “Shame on a country which declares its doctors, diplomats, poets and scholars as traitors, and garlands jihadist killers and eulogises them”. “Husain Haqqani is not a traitor he is a patriotic Pakistani. Real traitors are those acquit jihadis and penalise liberals”.

That, at present and until it does its proper job and brings the military under the rule of law too, looks like the supreme court. 

 

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was ousted in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images
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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.