Moral Low Ground


Unemployed Jobseekers Working Unpaid at Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Forced to Sleep Under London Bridge

Unemployed jobseekers bused into London to work without pay at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations were forced to sleep outdoors under the London Bridge.

The Guardian reports that up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 workers on apprentice wages were bused from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth to London as part of the British government’s work program.

The jobless workers were not compensated for their labor and were forced to camp under the London Bridge the night before they went to work as river stewards during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

“We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” one of the stewards told The Guardian. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night… It was raining and freezing,” she added.

Two of the jobseekers, who also wished to remain anonymous in order to protect their government benefits, told The Guardian that they were forced to change into their work clothes in public. They also said they had no access to toilets for 24 hours and were taken to a swampy campsite far from London in Essex when their 14-hour shift in the pouring rain was completed.

The unpaid laborers were brought in by the security firm Close Protection UK, which confirmed that it was using as many as 30 unpaid workers and 50 apprentices, who earned £2.80 ($4.31) per hour, for the three-day event. A company spokesperson told The Guardian that although the stewards were not compensated, their work was considered a trial for well-paid jobs at the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

“The nature of festival and event work is such that we often travel sleeping on coaches through the night with an early morning pre-event start,” Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in a statement. “It is the nature of the business… It’s hard work and not for the faint-hearted.”

The firm also said that it provided training and equipment, like boots and camouflage pants, that the stewards could keep.

But that was small comfort to many of those who had to sleep outdoors in the freezing rain.

“London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain. They couldn’t give a crap,” the female steward told The Guardian. “No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don’t want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food.”

“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had many a job, and many a bad job, but this one was the worst,” a male steward added.

Tomorrow’s People, the charity that arranged the work placements at Close Protection UK under the government work program, stressed that unpaid work was valuable and often leads to better employment opportunities.

“We will undertake a review of the situation as matter of urgency,” Abi Levitt, the charity’s director of services, told The Guardian. “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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