The long-term unemployed represent an immense untapped resource in the U.S. But the U.K. really knows how to tap that resource: Bus them to London to work unpaid at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee; tell them to sleep under London Bridge the night before; make them change into their uniforms in public; force them to work a 14-hour shift in pouring rain; deprive them of bathroom access for 24 hours; and then dump them at a swampy, pitch-black campsite to sleep it all off.
After The Guardian broke the story that a contractor for the event, Close Protection UK, brought as many as 80 job seekers to work the jubilee in miserable conditions and without fair compensation, there was an outcry. The former deputy prime minister, Lord Prescott, even wrote to the home secretary, reports The Guardian, saying that he was "deeply concerned," and that the situation should be investigated and Close Protection UK's upcoming Olympics contract reviewed.
The unemployed were part of the government's Work Programme, and were bused to the capital from various cities to help out during the $12 million pound ($18 million) river pageant that honored Queen Elizabeth's 60 years as monarch, reports The Guardian. Fifty people were given apprentice wages (about $4.30 an hour), and as many as another 30 weren't paid at all.
Close Protection UK won a "stewarding" contract for the three days of jubilee events, and nothing says profit like not paying your contract workers. The same company has a similar contract for London's upcoming Olympics, and a spokesman told The Guardian that the jubilee was a kind of try-out.
Two workers who spoke with The Guardian said that they were promised beforehand that they would be paid, but when they arrived they were informed that this wasn't true, and that if they didn't do the unpaid labor this time, they would be passed over for well-compensated work at the Summer Olympics. Neither worker wanted to be identified, citing their fear of losing this later opportunity at paid work.
The woman worker who was interviewed by the newspaper described camping out under London Bridge, where it was "raining and freezing," and of being woken up at 5.30 a.m. and forced to dress in public in the "freezing cold and rain."
"It was the worst experience I've ever had," the male steward told The Guardian. "I've had many a job, and many a bad job, but this one was the worst."
At first, Close Protection UK defended the arrangement, saying that it was an all-volunteer operation but that its workers were given significant training and equipment which they were allowed to keep. The security training licenses were 220 pounds per participant, the company said, and the boots and combat trousers tallied up to over 100 pounds. The charity Tomorrow's People, which coordinated the whole arrangement, said unpaid work was a valuable experience for job seekers, which made them more employable.
But once reports of the affair circulated, Close Protection UK backtracked and offering up its "sincere apologies" for the "London Bridge incident."
Perhaps nothing can quite make you question the institution of the monarchy, and the hereditary wealth and status it represents, like standing in a plastic, see-through poncho in the rain, watching a world-record-setting 1,000-vessel, seven-mile long flotilla sail down the Thames -- including a barge worth 1 million pounds -- and knowing you're not getting paid a cent.
While the inclement weather meant the pageant had to scrap the planned flyover of nine Royal Navy helicopters and a Fairey Swordfish biplane, it did not mean that Close Protection UK had to scrap the whole idea of sleeping on concrete under London Bridge. After all, the long-term unemployed are a resilient bunch.
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