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UK – Queen’s Jubilee tainted by allegations of “cheap labour” by temporary firm

06 June 2012

The UK may have celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in some style over the weekend but recent reports taint the picture as some jobseekers who worked as unpaid stewards during the celebrations were forced to sleep rough on the streets, The Guardian revealed.

The former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, has urged the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to investigate allegations that the firm, Close Protection UK, which provides temporary security personnel, had failed to “show a duty of care.” The company has since apologised.

The newspaper alleges that up to 30 unemployed people, including another 50 people on apprentice wages, were sent to work unpaid during the Jubilee as part of the Government's Work Programme, where jobseekers need to take up placements so they continue to receive their benefits.

The Employment Minister Chris Grayling said, “It does look in this particular case that a contractor working with the Work Programme has treated people under their care in an appalling way. Just because somebody is volunteering, it doesn't mean you can treat them badly.”

The newspapers claims that these workers were forced to camp overnight on the streets by London Bridge although the Department for Work and Pensions said there had been a mix up and the stewards only stayed in the cold for two hours.

The papers also claims that the stewards had to change into their security gear in public because there was a lack of changing facilities and had no access to toilets for 24 hours.

Lord Prescott has now written a letter to the Home Secretary in which he said that “If the allegations are true, it is totally unacceptable that young unemployed people were bussed in to London from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth and forced to sleep out in the cold overnight before stewarding a major event with no payment.”

“I am deeply concerned that a private security firm is not only providing policing on the cheap but failing to show a duty of care to its staff and threatening to withdraw an opportunity to work at the Olympics as a means to coerce them to work unpaid.”

“It also raises very serious questions about the suitability of using private security contractors to do frontline policing instead of trained police officers.”

The managing director of Close Protection UK, Molly Prince said in response to the allegations that “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 – it is the nature of the business. It's hard work and not for the faint-hearted.”

She said that staff had to travel from several locations and “some arrived earlier than others at the meeting point, which I believe was London Bridge, which was why some had to hang around. This is an unfortunate set of circumstances but not lack of care on the part of CPUK.”

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