Sat, Jun 09, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Jubilee stewards forced to work in dire conditions

By Shiv Malik  /  The Guardian, LONDON

A group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards for the diamond jubilee and told to sleep under London Bridge, before working at the event.

Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the British government’s Work Programme.

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours and were taken to a campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the rain on the banks of the river Thames.

One young worker said she was on duty between London Bridge and Tower Bridge during the £12 million (US$18.5 million) river spectacle. She said that the security firm Close Protection UK, which won a stewarding contract for the jubilee events, gave her a plastic see-through poncho and a hi-visibility jacket for protection against the rain.

Close Protection UK (CPUK) confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff over the three-day event in London and 50 apprentices who were paid £2.80 an hour. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.

The firm said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep, and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.

The woman said that people were picked up in Bristol at 11pm on Saturday and that they arrived in London at 3am on Sunday.

“We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” she said. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night ... It was raining and freezing.”

A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were “cold and wet, and we were told to get our head down [to sleep].”

He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent on a concrete floor.

The woman said they were woken at 5:30am and given boots and clothing.

“They had told the ladies we were getting ready in a minibus around the corner, and I went to the minibus and they had failed to open it, so it was locked, and I waited around to find someone to unlock it, and all of the other girls were coming down trying to get ready and no one was bothering to come down to unlock [it]. So some of us, including me, were getting undressed in public in the freezing cold and rain,” she said.

The men are understood to have changed under the bridge.

The female steward said after the royal pageant, the group traveled by tube to a campsite in Theydon Bois, Essex, where some had to pitch their tents in the dark.

“London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain. They couldn’t give a crap ... No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don’t want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food,” the woman said.

“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had many a job, and many a bad job, but this one was the worst,” the male steward said.

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