Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist is honoured in spite of Beijing's criticisms

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been named as this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, despite warnings from Beijing that his selection could damage China-Norway relations.

Liu was jailed in December 2009 for co-authoring a 2008 manifesto which called for, among other things, multi-party elections and free speech. He is currently serving an eleven-year sentence in a prison in Jinzhou, 500km outside of Beijing, for "inciting subversion of state power". Previous reports suggest that he could well be among the last to find out about his prize.

A university academic, Liu has repeatedly been arrested and sentenced for his participation in human rights protests, including the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989.

His win, from prison, will be particular galling for the Chinese government, which has previously been outspoken about his nomination for the prize. Back in February, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said:

"If the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to such a person, it is obvious that it is totally wrong."

The prize comes with an award of 10 million Swedish crowns (around £950,000), usually presented along with the prize itself at a ceremony in Oslo in December. It is not yet known whether anyone will collect Liu's prize on his behalf.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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.