Graduate sues Government over 'slave labour' schemes

Forcing job seekers to work for no wages is an abuse of their human rights, the High Court is told in landmark legal case

The Government was forced to deny exploiting "slave labour" yesterday over its controversial "workfare" schemes which see job seekers working for no wages.

An unemployed graduate, who claims she was made to work in a shop for no pay other than her benefits, has asked the High Court to declare that her human rights were breached in a case which could have far-reaching implications for the Coalition's flagship back-to-work programme.

Lawyers for Cait Reilly, 23, said she was made to carry out tasks which "did not contribute to [her] search for work to any extent". Nathalie Lieven QC told Mr Justice Foskett that Ms Reilly was told to carry out basic tasks such as sweeping and shelf-stacking "without training, supervision or remuneration".

Speaking outside court, Ms Reilly said: "Forcing people to work for free does nothing to tackle the causes of long-term unemployment."

An unemployed 40-year-old is challenging the legality of another Government work scheme that pays no wages. Both cases seek the quashing of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) regulations under which the schemes were set up and declarations that there have been violations of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery.

The cases come weeks after it was revealed that job seekers on the DWP's workfare schemes were employed at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant without pay. The schemes, which the Government says are intended to provide vital work experience to job seekers, have attracted criticism because people are often asked to work for no wages beyond their benefits payments.

Opponents have expressed fears that job seekers are being exploited as cheap, disposable labour and some have claimed they were told falsely that signing up the schemes was mandatory for job seekers.

The DWP said: "We will be contesting these cases vigorously. These schemes are not slave labour. They play an important part in giving job seekers the skills and experience they need to find work. It is entirely reasonable to ask job seekers to take real steps towards finding work if they are claiming benefits."

Yesterday, anti-workfare activists in Liverpool began a campaign to disrupt the communications systems of A4e, a company heavily linked to the schemes.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in