Morning Call: pick of the papers

Ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

  1. What a difference an A makes to Osborne (Sunday Times)
    No wonder the chancellor’s pallor was even more evident than usual, writes Dominic Lawson.
  2. The BBC rot starts at the top, with the elusive Lord Patten (Sunday Telegraph)
    The chairman emerges smelling of roses, even as he sticks the knife into his juniors, says Peter Oborne.
  3. Revealed: George Osborne's master plan for reviving the UK economy (Observer)
    Tory MPs are agitating for a dramatic budget to transform their party's fortunes. They will be disappointed, writes Andrew Rawnsley.
  4. Only the Tories have a grip on energy (Sunday Telegraph)
    The voters of Eastleigh have a splendid opportunity to send a message that green fundamentalism is unaffordable, says the Sunday Telegraph in a leader column.
  5. In Italy, Illusion Is the Only Reality (New York Times)
    What is never countenanced in Italy is the notion that one has made very serious mistakes, writes Tim Parks.
  6. The harsh lives of the forgotten rural poor (Observer)
    Urban poverty is well documented, but those suffering in the countryside are almost invisible, says Tobias Jones.
  7. Don’t hang the jury, even if it’s hopeless (Sunday Times)
    Any who think the criminal law would be better off without juries should visit countries that have never had them, writes Geoffrey Roberston.
  8. Forget the triple A: It's the NUM (National Union of Ministers) that terrifies George (Mail on Sunday)
    Osborne's main enemy are Tory Ministers who don’t have an ideological objection to more cuts, but simply don’t want to have to make them to their own budgets, writes James Forsythe.
  9. The BBC must hack away the slack (Independent on Sunday)
    After the ghastly revelations of the past months, it's hard to believe the BBC still hasn't learnt the basic rules of PR, says Janet Street Porter.
  10. Libel law of diminishing returns (Sunday Times)
    The unamended Defamation Bill must be passed tomorrow, writes the Sunday Times in a leader article.
Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.