The company at the centre of an outcry over the working conditions of unpaid Jubilee stewards, Close Protection UK (CPUK), will also provide security staff for the Olympics.
Earlier this week, the Guardian revealed that on Sunday morning, 30 jobseekers and 50 apprentices were told to sleep under London Bridge and change into their uniforms in public, before working a 14-hour shift in the rain with no access to toilets. The group were then told to travel by tube to a sodden campsite in Theydon Bois, Essex, where they had to pitch their tents in the dark. Other stewards at the event dismissed the claims, dubbing those who complained 'whingers' who are jeopardising Olympic jobs.
The company won a tender to supply fire marshals to the Games next month and the Jubilee event was apparently a trial run for paid jobs at the Olympics — in itself a slightly dubious carrot.
The line between work experience and exploitation appears to be getting narrower under the government's work programme; although the scheme is intended to get the long-term unemployed back into work, concerns over the use of jobseekers as 'slave labour' have been raised. In February, Tesco made headlines after claims that jobseekers were being coerced into working for nothing in its stores or face losing their benefits.
Despite the intervention of former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, the government dismissed his criticisms and says it has 'no plans' to change its work programme — hardly a surprise when it's so well-placed to provide a free workforce disguised as work experience — Lord Prescott said:
"We're using unpaid labour in the kinds of positions that are causing great concern and may well be establishing the practice for the coming Olympics, which this company is involved in as well. What conditions will they be paying for, how will they be sleeping? Who is responsible? This government that exploits cheap labour."
Lord Prescott also highlighted the safety concerns around replacing trained security staff with unpaid labour, while the Trades Union Congress's (TUC) Brendan Barber points out the rather obvious impact on the job market of providing free labour to private companies.
Questions over how Close Protection won the Olympic tender have been raised; Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East (one of the areas from which Sunday's jobseekers were brought in) wondered if the company had managed to win the Olympics and Jubilee contract "because they could offer this cheap labour?" The ever-increasing demonisation of the unemployed appears to have provided an ideal opportunity for the government to displace immigrant workers by undercutting them with official no-obligation free labour.
Photo by mrdamcgowan in the Londonist Flickr pool