The labour movement deplored what it called poor working conditions faced by unpaid stewards during the Queen’s diamond jubilee in London last month. They were reacting to news in The Guardian on June 6 of stewards complaining of having to take shelter overnight at London Bridge. The news prompted more than 2000 comments on the newspaper’s website and even merited a mention on the BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on June 7.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “The appalling treatment of staff working for free over the diamond jubilee weekend highlights 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. The fact that unpaid job seekers were working alongside fully paid employees also suggests that government programmes may be displacing proper jobs that pay at least the minimum wage. 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.”
And David Hanson, Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister, said: “The reports we are hearing of the way people were treated by the security company Close Protection UK are deeply concerning. Ministers need to investigate urgently what happened and why. When companies are offering work experience on public sector contracts and through Government work programmes, people should be properly treated and should not be exploited. The Government has a responsibility to get to the bottom of what has happened here, and what the implications are for security contracts and the Work Programme. They have to ensure this disgraceful treatment cannot happen again.” The contract security company Wigan-based Close Protection UK, is SIA-approved in guarding, door supervision and close protection. Molly Prince, MD, speaking on the BBC on June 6, admitted and apologised for errors but said the situation had been exaggerated.
It emerged that the stewards were ‘clients’ of an employment charity, Tomorrow’s People, whose London-based Director of Development Abi Levitt said the charity was ‘urgently reviewing’ involvement with Close Protection UK (CPUK). She said: “What happened to our clients on their arrival in London was totally unacceptable and is contrary to the Tomorrow’s People way of operating … CPUK has been working with us in Plymouth and Bristol for the past six months. They have been involved in pre-employment training specifically for the security industry and supporting some of our clients through their NVQ qualification. Those clients need practical work experience and when CPUK offered the opportunity for stewarding work at the Jubilee event, our employment advisers notified appropriate people on the programme. None of these clients was obliged to take part and each has done so of their own choice.”
According to the charity the security firm provided each person taking part with work boots and clothing, return transport to Plymouth and Bristol, all meals and accommodation at a fully equipped camp site. Applications have been made, the charity went on, for each participant to receive an SIA badge. Some, if not all of those doing the jubilee work will get paid contract work at the Olympics.
“With regard to the specific incident, we have been told by CPUK that there was a timing error which meant the coaches transporting clients from the South West arrived in central London two hours early – at 3am rather than 5am. The coach company insisted that participants disembark and there was no one present from CPUK to deal with the volunteers until they arrived at 5am as arranged. Until then there was no shelter or toilet facilities available. We are working with our staff to review of all aspects of the situation and to offer support to the clients involved. We are also in dialogue with CPUK to ensure that if our clients participate in any future work experience with the company that all measures are taken to guarantee their safety and security.”
For the reports in the Guardian newspaper and on the BBC of the treatment of unpaid Jubilee stewards visit http://bit.ly/L9BW3Y and http://bbc.in/MeFe8T