Calls were growing last night for an investigation into claims that up to 30 jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
One woman from Bristol, who did not want to be named, said she was among 80 people – there were also 50 people on apprentice wages – "left stranded" in central London after travelling from Bristol overnight.
"We went under London Bridge and were told we would be camping there,"she told The Independent. She claimed they were told they would start work at 5am but by 3.30am they still had not been given somewhere other than the street to sleep. She said she was then made to change into her uniform in public before spending 14 hours on duty without access to toilet facilities.
Labour's former deputy leader Lord Prescott has now written to Home Secretary Theresa May asking her to investigate claims made against security firm, Close Protection UK (CPUK), which was contracted to provide up to 30 unpaid stewards for the river pageant on Sunday. CPUK had bussed in the group of long-term unemployed from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth.
He said: "If the allegations are true, it is totally unacceptable that young unemployed people were... 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." Reports claimed the workers were brought in as part of the Government's Work Programme, where the unemployed must take up placements in order to continue receiving benefits.
Sources at the Department for Work and Pensions said they were only outside in the cold for two hours after a "mix-up" when the driver of their bus refused to let them sleep on board. Abi Levitt director at Tomorrow's People, which was contracted to conduct the programme for the Government, said all those bussed in had volunteered to take part after expressing an interest in working in the security industry. She said problems started when the coach carrying the workers arrived early and there was nobody from CPUK to meet them. Ms Levitt said: "It was a big error on their part."
Molly Prince, managing director of CPUK, said: "We take the welfare of our staff and apprentices very seriously indeed. The nature of the work is such that we often sleep on coaches through the night." Ms Prince also denied staff were without toilet facilities or forced to work 14 hour shifts.
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