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Prescott urges inquiry into Jubilee work experience claims

Category: England

Published: 5th Jun 2012 15:44:36

Ministers are being urged to look into reports that unemployed people hired as unpaid stewards for the Diamond Jubilee ended up having to sleep outside.

Volunteers from the government's work programme scheme had to spend the night under London Bridge before Sunday's Thames pageant, the Guardian said.

Labour's Lord Prescott has written to the home secretary, saying the contractor owed staff a "duty of care".

Close Protection UK has apologised and blamed a "misunderstanding".

The company said staff arriving from outside London on Sunday morning - ahead of the pageant on the Thames - should not have been dropped in the capital at 0300 BST with nowhere to stay.

The company, one of those awarded a stewarding contract for the Diamond Jubilee events, said there was confusion on the part of the coach driver who was two hours ahead of schedule.

The Guardian reported that volunteers bussed in from Bristol, Plymouth and Bath had to spend part of the night under London Bridge, one telling the newspaper that conditions were "freezing" and another saying it was impossible to pitch a tent due to the concrete surface.

They also told the newspaper that they had to change into their clothing - which included a plastic poncho for protection against the rain and high-visibility jacket - in public and had no access to toilets during the 14-hour shift.

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”

Labour's Lord Prescott has urged Home Secretary Theresa May to begin an urgent inquiry into what happened.

"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," he wrote.

"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."

The firm said it took on 80 people to act as stewards over the three-day event through the government's apprentice and work programme schemes - which aim to help the long-term jobless back into work.

Of these, 50 people under the age of 25 were paid the government's standard rate for apprentices of £2.60 per hour and the other 30 either accepted the same rate or refused payment because it would adversely affect their benefits.

Work experience is a compulsory part of the NVQ2 qualification in stewarding - which is essential for work at major events such as the Olympics.

Close Protection said the unpaid roles were a trial for paid positions at the 2012 Games, for which it also has a contract to provide stewarding.

The company, which is based in Wigan, said it paid for meals for all the Jubilee volunteers, accommodation on the night after the event as well as supplying their clothing, equipment and licences to undertake the work.

The charity Tomorrow's People, which set up some of the placements at Close Protection UK under the work programme, said it did not approve of unpaid work but in this case believed that it was valid work experience.

However, it is seeking further clarification from the stewarding company.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the work programme used organisations such as charities to help get the long-term unemployed back into work and while on such schemes individuals continued to receive their Jobseeker's Allowance.

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BBC News, 2012. Prescott urges inquiry into Jubilee work experience claims [Online] (Updated 5th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1432844/Prescott-urges-inquiry-into-Jubilee-work-experience-claims [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]

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