Letters to The Guardian

Letters to The Guardian ~ ‘The other side of Britain’s new Elizabethan age’, Tuesday 5 June 2012 20.59

Your report (Jobless bussed in to steward pageant, 5 June) captures what was felt by many of us who would not succumb to the diamond jubilee’s self-fulfilling PR.

It reminded me of going to church when I was younger. The merry music, the pseudo-sense of community and deference to higher authority. It’s meant to feel good. It does feel good.

But it is a chimera.

The reality is that many workers involved in the event were “paid” £2.80 an hour by a private company, bussed in and left stranded on the side of a road at 3am, with only a wet, concrete floor for a bed. Perhaps those in the royal box might care to top up those workers’ wages to the minimum and thank them for helping make their evening so jolly. Land of hope and glory? Plus ça change.
Stuart Emmerson
London 

• As a 62-year-old, I have been told all my life that we are living in the new Elizabethan age, but this shows that much remains of the old one – one set of arrangements for those at the top and another for those who do the donkey work. The company describes what happened as an “unfortunate set of circumstances”. Still, they have spent £220 a head on licences and more than £100 each on boots and trousers. So that’s all right then.
Janet Jobber
Huddersfield 

• What sort of country is Britain becoming that forces the long-term unemployed to work for free on a pageant designed to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee? Why are taxpayers in effect subsidising the private profits of a security company? As an ex-human resources professional, I always assumed it was part of an employer’s responsibility to pay staff while training them. What an indictment that training and equipment costs are now being used to justify non-payment for work. If working for free is an important part of getting the long-term unemployed back to work, as the charity involved suggested, perhaps it should be limited to non-profit-making or charitable activity to ensure that there can be no question of people on benefits being used to inflate private-sector profits.

Do we assume that the Olympics will also reveal a similar ugly use of workers beneath all the supposed celebration and fun?
Jenny Budden
Exmouth, Devon 

• In July, perhaps the Guardian will report just how many of the jobseekers used by Close Protection UK to work as unpaid stewards actually obtained paid jobs with the firm at the Olympics, as it appears they have been led to believe.
Beverlie Drewitt
Redditch, Worcestershire 

• This company should be immediately stripped of all its contracts working with the unemployed as a clear signal to other companies that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
Valerie Crews 
Beckenham, Kent 

• I hope none of the unemployed who worked as unpaid stewards for the Queen’s jubilee were Britons, as all over the country this weekend people loudly professed such people “never, never, never shall be slaves”.
Paul O’Kane
London


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Unpaid jubilee stewards: Prescott accuses government of exploitation” was written by Hélène Mulholland and Shiv Malik, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 6th June 2012 10.09 Europe/London

Lord Prescott has accused the government of “exploiting cheap labour” and presiding over the development of labour camps following revelations that unpaid jobseekers on the government’s work programme were asked by a security firm to sleep under London bridge before stewarding the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations over the weekend.

The former deputy prime minister has written to the home secretary after becoming “deeply concerned” by revelations in the Guardian about the treatment of up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages who were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth on Saturday before the pageant on Sunday as part of the government’s work programme.

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, later told the Guardian that they had to camp under London bridge overnight, to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

The firm, Close Protection UK (CPUK), has issued “sincere apologies” for what it called the “London bridge incident”, but insisted that the poor conditions reported had been exaggerated.

But Prescott said the “very bad incident” raised “many questions about the use of unpaid labour”. Prescott, who is running to be the elected police and crime commissioner for the Humberside police force area, called on Theresa May to investigate whether the company had broken the security industry’s own employment standards and is urging the government to review the company’s contract for the Olympics.

In the letter, Prescott said the situation raised “very serious questions” about the “suitability of using private security contractors to do frontline policing instead of trained police officers” and that the company had shown a “blatant disregard for the care of its workers”.

“It’s not only unacceptable,” Prescott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “it’s a breach of the responsibility of the company under the security kind of agreements in the industry to have some proper regard for their employees. Not only was it under the bridge, but they were then sent to a camp which they described as ‘swampy and wet’ after this event, almost becoming a development of labour camps. Is this going to be the circumstances for the Olympic sites?

He went on to say that it showed “complete disregard for the social conditions of cheap labour”.

Prescott said: “Is this the Olympic model? This company has bid for the contract at the Olympics, at which they will be paid £8.45, because it’s the minimum wage but which conditions will they be paying for? How will they be sleeping? Who is responsible? This government that exploits cheap labour.”

Prescott also said the charity Tomorrow’s People, which set up the placements at CPUK under the work programme, had a responsibility.

“They can’t just palm it on to Close Protection. They have a responsibility to the young people they are bringing forward are properly cared for.”

Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said errors had been made but insisted the conditions reported had been exaggerated.

“The whole situation has been exaggerated and we’re talking about two or three people complaining out of 220 staff that were supplied to the event,” she told Today. “It was badly handled and for that we’ve extensively apologised. We’re not in the business of exploiting free labour.”

The company has already stated that those who were unpaid did not want to be paid because they wanted to get the work experience.

Prince said there had been a “logistics error” which saw some unpaid employees left under London bridge and implied that she intended to deal with an employee who was on the coach with the workers. She denied a suggestion made by Prescott that the member of staff concerned was a director.

“They should have been left on the coach until the director arrived on site with the other staff members,” she said.

Prince said staff were supposed to change into their work clothes on the coach, saying: “It is the nature of event work.” But she said staff had been forced to change on the streets of London because the clothes and equipment were not actually on the coach but on separate minibuses.

On the issue of the campsite, she denied that the accommodation provided was inadequate.

“There was dry sheltered accommodation and a couple of individuals wanted to erect their own tents on the site in the pouring rain which they were advised not to do by our operations director and they proceeded to attempt it,” she told Today.

“Their objection was that the accommodation provided was communal but that was explained to everybody involved right from the beginning.”

The company chief said lessons had been learned.

“There were some logistical mistakes made which I can assure everybody concerned will be rectified and will be learned from in readiness for the Olympics. In regards to the contracts that we have for the Olympics, there will only be employed labour used and they will be paid at the rate dictated by Locog and the event.”

Abi Levitt, director of development services at Tomorrow’s People, said: “At this point in time, we have been unable to verify the accuracy of the situation with either the people on work experience or the business concerned. However, we will undertake a review of the situation as matter of urgency. Tomorrow’s People believes strongly in the value of work experience in helping people to build the skills, confidence and CV they need to get and keep a job and we have an exemplary record going back nearly 30 years for our work with the long-term unemployed.”

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The jubilee pageant. Two unpaid stewards said they had to camp under London bridge before the event, change clothes in public and had no access to toilets. Photograph: Wang Lili/Xinhua Press/Corbis

 

Unpaid jubilee jobseekers: Downing Street dismisses criticisms

Prime minister’s spokeswoman says treatment of unemployed people who worked as stewards was a ‘one-off’

Downing Street has brushed off the controversy over the treatment of unpaid jobseekers who provided security during the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.

In a rebuff to Lord Prescott, who has accused the government of “exploiting cheap labour”, the prime minister’s spokeswoman dismissed the treatment of the jobseekers as a “one-off” and an “isolated incident”.

The spokeswoman said: “This is a one-off … This is an isolated incident. The company has apologised.”

Downing Street responded to the criticism at its weekly lobby briefing shortly after Prescott accused the government of presiding over the development of labour camps following revelations that unpaid jobseekers on the government’s work programme were asked by the Close Protection UK (CPUK) security firm to sleep under London bridge before stewarding the Queen‘s diamond jubilee celebrations over the weekend.

The former deputy prime minister has written to the home secretary after becoming “deeply concerned” by revelations in the Guardian about the treatment of up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages who were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth on Saturday before the pageant on Sunday as part of the government’s work programme.

Downing Street dismissed the criticisms as it made clear that the government would not be making any changes to its work programme, which arranges for companies and charities to provide unpaid work experience for those on jobseeker’s allowance.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “We understand that the company involved has apologised. But more broadly the work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable … The work programme itself offers experience and the chance to develop those skills that people really need to get into sustainable jobs.”

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefitstold the Guardian that they had to camp under London bridge overnight, to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

The TUC warned that the “appalling treatment of staff” that had been reported had shone a spotlight on “the damage that unpaid work experience risks causing people who are desperate to get back into proper employment, as well as the exploitative treatment that they can face”.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said the revelations suggested that government programmes involving unpaid jobseekers might be displacing proper jobs “that pay at least the minimum wage”.

Barber also drew attention to government plans to water down workers’ rights.

He said: “The main experience gained by staff appears to have been poor working conditions and exploitation. Worse still, the government is encouraging more employers to treat staff poorly at work by stepping up its attacks on basic employment rights.

“This case has attracted attention because of its link to the diamond jubilee. Sadly low-paid vulnerable employment such as this occurs on a daily basis throughout the country. The number of involuntary temporary workers is at a record high. These are not the jobs that will take Britain out of recession and improve people’s living standards.”

CPUK has issued “sincere apologies” for what it called the “London bridge incident”, but insisted that the poor conditions reported had been exaggerated.

Molly Prince, the managing director of CPUK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The whole situation has been exaggerated and we’re talking about two or three people complaining out of 220 staff that were supplied to the event.

“It was badly handled and for that we’ve extensively apologised. We’re not in the business of exploiting free labour.”

A member of the Labour group on the London assembly has called on the London mayor, Boris Johnson, to give assurances that there will be no repeat of the “scandal” during the Olympic Games.

John Biggs has written to the Conservative mayor and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) seeking assurances that all workers at the Olympics will be paid. Biggs also asked whether, in light of the revelations, the company was “suitable” to be given a contract for the Olympics.

“The fact that anybody, let alone unpaid workers, were forced to sleep under London bridge is truly scandalous,” said Biggs. “To make it worse it appears that many of these people were essentially blackmailed into taking unpaid work, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work at the Olympics or would risk losing their benefits.

“How many of us would accept working unpaid, being forced to sleep outside and not given access to changing rooms or toilets? This incident is a sad indictment of the way our country is headed.”

He added: “It is simply unacceptable in the 21st century for people to work unpaid and be forced to sleep outside. The company have tried to blame a logistical mistake, but the simple fact is they had a duty of care to their workers and they failed.”

The Guardian

Comments
  • DAVID A SHAW June 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    On the facebook page ‘ rage against close protection’ a sun reporter by the name of Eric Knight has posted asking people to report benefit cheats. Please go to this page if you have facebook and see what this man is saying and how the sun newspaper is again inflaming anti- disability issues with the backing of David Cameron so he says. So lets play report the scum bag, this man is fanning the flames of an already smouldering fire. He and his kind must not be allowed to do this kind of thing as we all know what has happened so far. The sun is the biggest offender, it is time it and other papers were bought to book.
    They shall not pass.

  • never4get June 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    the premise was ‘that this was an opportunity that could lead to a job’ i am wondering how many of these unfortunate people who had to work for nothing or peanuts at this ‘event’ were actually offered a position with this company? and if they had so many undertaking this enterprise why werent people employed on a decent wage to do the job? slave labour…doesnt even come close

  • jeffrey davies June 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    welcome to britain in 2012 where slaves are bought for£222o for you to do with no wages to be payed jeff3

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