In this week’s New Statesman: Christmas Special

Richard Dawkins on the King James Bible | Ricky Gervais interview | Russell Brand on WikiLeaks.

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This week's New Statesman is a Christmas special, with 100 pages of the finest writing to see you through the festive period. The highlights include Richard Dawkins on why, despite his atheism, he reveres the King James Bible, an interview with The xx, acclaimed winners of this year's Mercury Prize, and Russell Brand on why WikiLeaks shows our leaders to be "ham-fisted chumps". Elsewhere, Sophie Elmhirst talks to Ricky Gervais, who discusses fame, elitism, and why he's an atheist and dislikes religious people ("The burden of proof is on you! You started it!").

Also this week, in the Christmas Essay, Dominic Sandbrook profiles Oliver Cromwell and declares him "the greatest man in our history, warts and all", Arianna Huffington tells us why the Tea Party is here to stay and Samira Shackle and myself review the most turbulent political year in decades.

All this, plus our regular array of columnists and writers. Don't miss John Pilger on why Julian Assange deserves our protection, Mehdi Hasan on why the coalition is a Tory government in all but name, David Blanchflower on what Oxbridge can learn from the US and Laurie Penny on how Twitter has changed dissent for ever.

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.