Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Only a peace conference, not air strikes, can stop further bloodshed (Independent)

The US and Russia should force their respective allies to at least agree to a ceasefire, writes Patrick Cockburn.

2. The hand-wringing has to stop. We must act (Times)

If we do not intervene to support freedom and democracy in Egypt and Syria, the Middle East faces catastrophe, says Tony Blair.

3. America’s Middle East alliances are cracking (Financial Times)

Policy rested on five crucial players but these are pulling in different directions, says Gideon Rachman.

4. Immature advisers, moral indignation and the folly of wading into this bloody morass (Daily Mail)

Unfortunately, for the cause of justice and truth, loose talk about morality is a luxury grown-up governments cannot often afford to indulge, writes Max Hastings. 

5. Don't bet against Ed Miliband doing a Mo Farah in 2015 (Guardian)

Middle East in turmoil, two key referendums and a fragile recovery mean Ed can still go for gold at the next election, writes Jackie Ashley.

6. Living standards - too big an issue for politics (Financial Times)

Westminster struggles with the reality that wage stagnation is not a peculiarly British difficulty, writes Janan Ganesh.

7. By crossing Obama’s red line, Assad has forced the US to act (Daily Telegraph)

For the world’s good, America’s credibility as a superpower must be maintained, writes David Blair.

8. None of the experts saw India's debt bubble coming. Sound familiar? (Guardian)

India's economic problems reflect a global boom-to-bust pattern, writes Jayati Ghosh. Why do policymakers act surprised?

9. The Right Track? (Times)

The government needs a more resilient case on the costs and benefits of HS2, says a Times editorial. 

10. Bric wall: A slowdown in emerging markets could threaten the global recovery (Independent)

A significant slump in the developing world would have knock-on effects, notes an Independent editorial.

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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.