Austerity Jubilee: unemployed workers tricked into being Jubilee stewards, denied toilets, left to camp in the rain

Long-term unemployed workers say they were bussed to London to act as stewards for the Queen's Jubilee, told they would be paid for the work and cared for while in town. When they arrived, they were told they wouldn't get paid (this was "work experience" not a job), and were made to strip down and change into uniforms in public, pitch tents in the rain, sleep under a bridge, and left without toilet facilities for 24 hours. They were told that if they didn't accept this "training," they wouldn't be considered for work during the Olympics.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. 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...

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 because of the concrete floor.

The woman said they were woken at 5.30am and supplied with boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. She said: "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. 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." The men are understood to have changed under the bridge.

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

Unemployed bussed in to steward river pageant


  1. This is just a semantic PR problem. If you call that experience an “internship”, then it’s all good and no one would expect better treatment.

      1.  That’s the spirit. It’s not that these people were treated as cast-off, subhuman rubbish beneath contempt. It’s that no one has properly described them in terms that would help us recognize them as cast-off, subhuman rubbish beneath contempt. See some of the other comments on this post for apparently sincere examples.

  2. When they say it was practice for the Olympics, do they mean the horrible, exploitative, militarised, forced fun?

    Or are they talking about the minimum wage standing and pointing jobs?

    1. Completely unrelated, but the “militarised forced fun” kinda reminds me of the latest Oglaf strips. With the funworm. *shivers* That’s some creepy stuff.

  3. Atrios makes a good point – if  ‘steward’ means anything more than ‘human bollard’, this was a scam on the payment-from-govt end, too.

  4. — My Lady! The peasants are revolting!

    — Yes, I know, that’s why I don’t let them into the castle!

    1. Perhaps some of these lucky duckies will get to be “piss boys” in the VIP enclosures at the Olympics.

  5. The article snippet doesn’t mention the other key fact: these were students on an NVQ course doing their field test. There’s nothing wrong in principle with students being unpaid during their exams, and it’s certainly true that if they fail the exams, they won’t get paid work later.

    The errors here appear to be:
     – they should never have been told that they would be paid (did this actually happen, or did one student just misunderstand? the article says the claim could not be confirmed)
     – conditions at the camp were lousy

    1.  I’m assuming then that Close Protection UK will be able to produce an assessment paper trail? Rubrics, supervision notes, etc. ? We’ll see…

    2. Yes. Tomorrow’s People have a very good track record. They properly research the companies they use for training placements to ensure that real jobs do exist at the end of the process. This seems to be simply a case of poor organisation and not wilful exploitation.

        1. Undoubtedly. I just think that if the Guardian wanted to highlight the contrast between the pomp of the official celebrations and the crap that most people have to put up with this is the wrong story. Tomorrow’s People is a charity and not a company set up to tender for government contracts to reduce the unemployment figures at so much per head.

    3.  It also doesn’t mention that they were told it would be paid, and then at the last minute – with the bus about to leave – the “unpaid field test” story was sprung on them, framed with the extortion-tastic angle that if they didn’t do the free work, they would be giving up the possibility of paid work later.

      A clear mark of a scam – there is no compelling reason you couldn’t have been given all the information to make a decision days ago, but instead it’s being sprung on you and you have to make your decision NOW NOW NOW.

    4. Given the reek of a high-pressure scam, it sounds like these “errors” were features rather than bugs, at least as far as Close Protection’s bottom line was concerned.

      I’m all for applying Hanlon’s razor, but even if that’s the case here it’s useful to remember that incompetence with this sort of financial result is also frequently rewarded by a certain type of organisation.

      1. I would say Hanlon’s Razor doesn’t apply when the so-called incompetence results in gain for the incompetent party. Best to assume malfeasance in those cases. 

    5. Not knowing what NVQ means, I can’t imagine that this could actually make the policy any more ethical, or even rational for that matter.

      1. An NVQ is a National Vocational Qualification. The training is partly job based through work experience and for the unemployed you can either be paid by the employer and not receive benefits or remain on benefits and not be paid by the employer. An NVQ level 2 is equivalent to 5 GCSEs (or what an average 16 year old would leave school with).

        1.  It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, though. There’s a thing called “permitted work” where people remain on benefits, but earnings over £20 are deducted from their social security payments. That way, they get paid to do the job, get the experience, get a small bonus and don’t get kicked off benefits and have to re-apply.

          Not sure if you have to arrange this beforehand with the benefits agency.

    6.  More details are now emerging: it was a screwup, the camp disaster was not supposed to happen. The coach bringing them to London arrived a few hours early, and nobody was available to take them to the correct site. They were stuck under the bridge for a couple hours, not left there overnight; in this the Guardian report is wrong.

      The suggestion that they were told they were unpaid at the last minute is also not true. All of them were either paid the minimum wage for apprentices, or had chosen not to take it because they were taking (the higher rate of) Jobseeker’s allowance instead.

      So, nothing to see here, article was wrong.

    1. Olympics/Jubilee stewards:  “Now he tells us!”
      Dubai immigrant workers:  “Ditto!”

  6. This is a security firm? I’d say this was a test for “Close Protection UK”, that the company definitively failed. At the very least, they should be disqualified from any future involvement in security for public events, especially the Olympics.

    I don’t recall who said it first, but I did always like the quote “I’ll believe corporations are people when I see one executed.”

  7. Time to revise the lyrics to “Rule Brittania”: “Britons, only only sometimes shall be slaves.”

    Only the Tories could make the situation of income-less people living under bridges the result of a government programme.

    1. Although a government programme, do remember it was Labour that invented it.  I remember people being forced to work over xmas for Tesco as slave labour 5 years ago, they used them to avoid hiring xmas staff.

      1. US, UK, same diff, there is only one party, the party of finance (Wall Street division in US, City division in UK). Democracy is a sham these days, given the amount of capital power concentracted at the very top of finance.

      2. Oh, no doubt phead. But you have to admit that only the Tories would bring it to the point where the programme’s ostensible clients ended up literally living under a bridge in addition to providing slave labour for a favoured company.

        To the credit of the Tories, at least they’re more honest than Labour in their contempt for the peons.

        1. Kind of like above the Mason Dixon Line Racism, and below the Mason Dixon Line racism respectively, here in the US.

        2. Well its a private company doing it, but the government is definitely looking the other way. All unpaid work, be it this crap, or the fancy internship for the rich kids in the city should be completely banned.
          digi_owl is right, the champagne socialists or the upper class tories, neither represent the people of this country any more.

          1. It looks more like a situation where the Tory government programme  is working through a charitable cut-out (Tomorrow’s People) to feed cheap labour to a favoured corporation (Close Protection UK).

            Since Tomorrow’s People apparently skipped their usual due diligence (per Wreckrob8) in the case of Close Protection UK, one really has to wonder how they ended up giving a pass to this dodgy guard-labour operation.

            It wouldn’t be the first time that a charity’s government liason or party-affiliated board member “strongly suggested” that a certain corporation’s approval be fast-tracked.

            I would also be unsurprised to discover that Close Protection’s executives are generous supporters of the Tories.

            But absolutely agreed, with Labour it might have been another charitable cut-out and another shady corporation (perhaps without the ridiculously Dickensian visuals of the bridge encampment), but with the same workers getting screwed over.

        3. To the credit of the Tories, at least they’re more honest than Labour in their contempt for the peons.

          Thatcher destroyed the social contract. Labour used the resulting mayhem as an excuse to create a surveillance state.

          1. Exactly — a surveillance state that the Tories were happy to inherit and “improve.” You can bet that Close Protection UK plans to get a nice slice of that lucrative pie.

  8. I guess “Big Society” is the idea that Society exists to serve the Big People. Apart from exploiting the powerless this seems to demand that the exploited be grateful for their exploitation. Unbelievable.

  9. They were told that if they didn’t accept this “training,” they wouldn’t be considered for work during the Olympics.

    Where the conditions will probably be exactly the same.

    1. Yeah, why would they assume any different? The crooks got them to work for free once, why would anyone think they would ever do otherwise? 

  10. It’s all endearingly feudal. The sovereign parades with vast pomp and pageantry, the peasant mercenaries sleep in the rain. This is what makes Britain special: observance of the old traditions, unchanged for hundreds of years.

  11. “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony”

    1. What, you think this is somehow the monarchy’s fault? I find it almost impossible that they were involved anywhere in the decision-making process that led to this wickedness. The theme of the event is completely incidental to this story; this could’ve been any other government-organised bash.

      Parliament may be preferable in principle, but ours causes far, far more trouble than our monarchy.

  12. What employer wouldn’t want to get in on this? Free labor with the only carrot a vague, uncommitted notion of being considered for a well-paying  job sometime in the undisclosed future. You don’t have to offer food, shelter, or even a place to shit (though you may have to buy uniforms; you don’t want your slaves looking unprofessional).

    1. As others have pointed out above, this is becoming endemic, with even liberal papers like the Granuid taking on unpaid interns (which equates to upper-middle class London dweller offspring)

      1. The Grauniad is a Manchester free trade rag with a dubious history in terms of the causes it has supported. It even considered a merger with the Times at one point. You do not expect them to run with a real story to their own detriment, do you? Better to deflect the flak elsewhere.

        1. I think you need to research the nicknames of the UK press, including one that Cory has been published in on numerous times

  13. That’s it, keep pissing on the peasants; it’s not like that ever backfired in the past.

  14. Still no excuse or explication for the aggressive nature of the orange safety vest wearing stewards at Victoria tower Gardens there attitude and manor of addressing the public was very aggressive

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