A Labour MP is demanding answers from a security firm and charity after reports they bussed jobless people into London to work under appalling conditions during the Jubilee weekend.
Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, told The Huffington Post UK she wants to "get to the bottom of" a report in the The Guardian that said unemployed workers were made to sleep under London Bridge, especially as it happened to workers on placement for security firm Close Protection UK, which has also won the contract for the Olympic Games.
Pointing to the fact that companies have had a "long, long time" to prepare for these big events, she posed the question:
"Why did they not use people from London rather than bus in slave labour from outside? Is it an ideal thing to have people thrown in a the deep end for these big events?"
John Prescott has also said that he has written to the Home Secretary Theresa May demanding an inquiry into Close Protection UK, following the revelations.
In the strongly worded letter the full version of which he has published on his blog "The People's Voice", he stresses that he is "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.
"It also raises very serious questions about the suitability of using private security contractors to do frontline policing instead of trained police officers" he writes.
The former Deputy Prime Minster then calls on the Secretary of State to "urgently review CPUK’s contract to provide security during the Olympics."
According to The Guardian around 30 unemployed people and 50 people who had agreed to work on apprentice wages when they were picked up from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth on Friday night and taken to London.
Having arrived in the capital around 2.40am, the jubilee workers were told to camp under London Bridge before being roused at 5.00am and handed stewarding roles along the banks of the Thames.
Forced to change outside in the rain, given no access to toilets and working a 14-hour-shift, the stewards both told the paper that they had originally told they would be paid, only to be informed on the coach on Saturday that the Jubilee weekend was merely a trial for paid work at the Olympics. They refused to give their names in case they lost their benefits.
The level of training that volunteers received to work at the jubilee flotilla was one issue McCarthy was eager to probe, raising concerns over the safety of both members of the public and the workers at the event.
Kerry McCarthy has said she is keen ask questions of the companies involved
Close Protection UK told The Guardian that it had spent a "considerable" amount of money training the stewards. However McCarthy told the Huffington Post UK that there are already lots of people who have an sia (security qualification) who are finding it difficult to get work"
Their placements at the security firm were set up by the charity Tomorrow's People in connection with the government's Work Programme, which aims to help the long term unemployed gain skills to help them get a job.
McCarthy described the workfare experience as "completely wrong" telling The Huffington Post UK : "It sounds hideous the way people were treated. They seem to have been thrown in at the deep end, lured in on the promise that they would get better wages at the Olympics."
McCarthy wondered if Close Protection had managed to win the Olympics and Jubilee contract "because they could offer this cheap labour? "
"Presumably Close Protection UK was paid for the contract: have they made lots of money by exploiting people or did Tomorrow's people get paid for it? Workfare is meant to be giving people experience not just providing cheap labour."
The firm told The Guardian that workers offered to be there voluntarily and the work would not affect their benefits. Cold, wet conditions were the "nature of the business," Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in a statement.
However following the uproar, Prince issued an apology to the stewards for the makeshift campsite under the bridge. She told The Guardian:
"For this we sincerely apologise, on investigation this morning the majority of the team were happy, fed and looked after as best possible under the circumstances.
"The London Bridge incident should never have happened but was to some extent outside our control, the coach drivers insisted on leaving."
Prince added that the stewards who performed unpaid work did so voluntarily because they wanted to continue to claim benefits.
McCarthy said Tomorrow's People and Close Protection UK would be her first point of call to ask questions, "rather than the government at this point, because it's all a bit sudden after the event. Although I don't think people would make something like this up."
The government's workfare scheme has come under criticism in the past, after a Tesco job advert offered "Job Seekers Allowance plus expenses" in wages.
The job post in February caused widespread outrage on social networks and amongst bloggers. One Tesco store was forced to shut down for a day after Boycott Workfare protestors demonstrated outside the Westminster branch. Following the furore a number of other high street businesses including Marks and Spencers and Burger King pulled out of the scheme.
Sunny Hundal, Guardian reporter and writer of Liberal Conspiracy blog wrote: "This is nothing less than modern slavery. Tesco should be ashamed of itself for exploiting workers like this."
The supermarket giant has said that the advert was an IT error, and that the position was not permanent but offered three night shifts of "valuable work experience" in exchange for Job Seeker's Allowance, with a guaranteed interview at the end.
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