Leader: Brazil says no to Fifa’s jamboree

In a country that loves football, not even the great Pelé was able to appease the protesters.

Brazil is one of the world’s emerging powers, a nation of nearly 200 million people that is blessed with vast mineral wealth and abundant natural resources. It has oil, the Amazon rainforest, more renewable water than any other country and a quarter of the world’s arable land. It has become one of the world’s great bread - baskets. And it is excelling at soft power: Brazil will host both the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Yet all is not well in this land of searing inequalities. It is not just the multitudes in the favelas who are restive but the educated middle classes. In recent days, to coincide with Brazil hosting the Fifa Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup, more than one million people have taken to the streets to protest. Their ostensible motivation was a rise in bus fares but their grievances range from political corruption to resentment at a decadent elite.

In a country that loves football, not even the great Pelé was able to appease the protesters. His appeals for calm were received with derision.

President Dilma Rousseff has shown little leadership so far in the crisis. She has hastily promised to hold a referendum on reform – but to decide what, exactly? And, as Isabel Hilton writes on page 22, the protests seem “like just the beginning” of something long-lasting. Could it be that the people do not want the World Cup in Brazil, after all? Or, at least, not on these terms?

Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Brazil erupts

Getty
Show Hide image

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.