Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Does Labour have the appetite to support the Casserole Club? (Daily Telegraph)

A radical plan to reshape the state and hand power and money to local authorities is proving controversial in the shadow cabinet, writes Mary Riddell. 

2. The long, withdrawing roar of trade unionism (Times)

Once a power in the land the union movement still dominates the public sector, writes Daniel Finkelstein. But for how much longer?

3. If robots divide us, they will conquer (Financial Times)

The rise of intelligent technologies may cost us dear – unless we understand the dangers, says Martin Wolf.

4. Labour and the unions: two cheers for democracy (Guardian)

Mr Miliband's plan goes a long way in the right direction, but some of the details remain muddy, says a Guardian editorial.

5. Get off the Speaker’s back. He deserves a much better press (Times)

His work has done much to restore the status of the Commons, says Tim Montgomerie.

6. Pakistan's future is tied to the Taliban (Guardian)

With the impending withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the time has come to talk – despite the horrific wave of bombings, says Tariq Ali.

7. Independence can revive Scotland (Financial Times)

A Yes vote offers Scots the chance to emulate their Victorian forebears, writes Michael Fry.

8. There are very good reasons a foetus cannot be a victim of crime (Guardian)

Criminalising women who drink while pregnant would set a profoundly dangerous legal precedent, writes Zoe Williams. Support for the idea is driven by wild overestimates of foetal alcohol syndrome.

9. Russia doesn’t seem to care that it has had to spend stupid money in order to host the Winter Olympics. Maybe it should (Independent)

The Games are stunningly, ludicrously, absurdly expensive, writes Hamish McRae. To take a round figure they look like costing $50bn.

10. Why the NHS is crossing the Rubicon (Daily Telegraph)

The 'Francis effect’ following the scandal of bad treatment at Stafford Hospital is leading to more nurses, less box-ticking, and greater transparency, says Jeremy Hunt.

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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.