Aung San Suu Kyi set for release

Reports from Burma claim that the pro-democracy leader could be freed as early as Sunday.

After spending 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is set to be released, according to the BBC.

Military authorities have reportedly signed an order authorising the release of the Burmese pro-democracy leader, when the term of her house arrest expires this Sunday.

Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing incarceration has become a cause célèbre in the west. Just last week, Gordon Brown took to Twitter to call for her release.

In Burma, she is an enduring symbol of resistance against the military regime that have controlled the state since 1990, despite the efforts of the Burmese regime to overshadow her. As Ambika Reddy pointed out in last week's New Statesman:

Than Shwe [the leader of Burma's military junta] has devoted himself to constructing an edifice that would loom over Aung San Suu Kyi, rooting the army's claim to power in the nation's traditional iconography. That this is a hopelessly atavistic endeavour goes without saying. It threatens to leave Burma becalmed in a settlement in which the people's demands for the most miserable basics of life continue to be ignored, and in which border wars drag on.

Peter Popham explained in the New Statesman's profile of Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this summer why the military junta fears a woman now of pensionable age:

Three times before - in 1990, 1995 and 2002 - [the junta] made the mistake of underestimating her appeal. The first time, the NLD humiliated the regime's proxy, the National Unity Party, by winning 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The second time, when she was released from her first spell of house arrest, thousands risked jail every week to squat outside the gates of her home and listen to her speak. The third time, when, after months of delay, she was at last allowed to travel outside Rangoon, peasants walked through the jungle for days for a chance to see her.

Whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi will actually be released remains to be seen. A spokesman for the Burma Campaign UK attempted to dampen speculation.

"There are rumours that the police are outside her house and could be delivering documents connected to her freedom. However, we really don't know. If there are conditions attached to her release she might not agree to it."

The AFP, however, reported sources who claimed: "The authorities will release her. It is certain".

Until she if free, nothing can be guaranteed, particularly in Burma's current state, undergoing a major political transformation."The end of the reigns of Burmese rulers are always moments of uncertainty," explains Ambika Reddy. "The consequences are utterly unpredictable."

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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.