Call centre brings in prison labour at £3/day, fires regular workers

Becoming Green is a Welsh call centre that brought in cheap prison labour at £3 per day. These workers were supposed to be receiving temporary on-the-job training, but just as they were brought on, non-prisoner workers who'd been doing the same job for a real wage were fired. The company claims these two facts are not related.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that dozens of prisoners from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, south Wales, had done "work experience" for at least two months at a rate of 40p an hour in the private company's telephone sales division in Cardiff.

People working in the prisons sector described the scheme as "disgusting" and a "worrying development".

After establishing an arrangement with minimum security HMP Prescoed late last year, roofing and environmental refitting company Becoming Green has taken on a staff of 23 prisoners. Currently 12 are being paid just 6% of the minimum wage. When contacted by the Guardian last month, that figure was 17 – 15% of the company's call centre staff.

The company confirmed that since it started using prisoners, it had fired other workers. Former employees put the number at 17 since December. However, the firm said firings were part of the "normal call centre environment" and it had hired other staff in a recent expansion.

Becoming Green said the category D prison had allowed the company to pay the prisoners just £3 a day for at least 40 working days but added that they could keep them at that pay level for much longer if they wanted.

Prisoners paid £3 a day to work at call centre that has fired other staff


  1. I think this is wrong. Prisoners who are permitted to work should be paid normal wages and pay for their share of living expenses (amounts to be determined by an authority independent of the prison system).

    1. cost of housing them, minus the cost of the security, which should rightfully be borne by the state.

  2. I can’t imagine that performing such a high-stress and frustrating job is healthy for any prisoner’s rehabilitation. I’ve never committed a crime in my life and the brief period of time I worked in a call center made me want to murder people. This is just further proof that prisons in the western world are merely a legal form of slave labor with no regard to the health and welfare of either the prison population or society as a whole.

    1. Yes, this clearly qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment”.
      The ultimate aim is evidently to criminalise all of us, but then have us working our regular jobs, but under entirely different T&Cs.  Or, as you put it, slave labour.  A fine outcome for everyone (well, except for us, of course.)

    2.  At least the Chef Ramsey program gave prisoners some usable skills. this just gives a prisoner a list of names to follow up on once they’re out.

    3. Don’t worry, if you piss them off they’ll just have your name and address for when they get out.

  3. Eh. The people who got fired won’t have to worry for long. Just a few arrests for breaking the new vagrancy laws, and…

      1. I don’t think we gave feudalism a fair crack. Might be the right time to bring it back. We have a boatload of robber barons at the ready.

  4. company acts like turds to workers, UK gov helps…sheesh what a mess. 
    I think rehabilitation worthy, but as Bersl says they should be paid the same as any other workers – perhaps part of their wage could go towards victims costs.

    having a look at their website I always feel mistrusting of any company that doesn’t say in the “about us” section who owns it. it’s not hard to find out and the individual in question should be ashamed of this exploitation. the fact that UK gov is helping him is disgraceful but not surprising  – unfortunately.

    1. “they should be paid the same as any other workers – perhaps part of their wage could go towards victims costs.”

      That’s actually a good way to deal with it, and difficult for opponents to argue against.

      It means that the only incentive for people to hire prison workers is for rehabilitation benefit; not as a cheap, inhumane replacement. And naturally money coming back into the system, especially the victims of crimes, is always good.

      Let’s see cameron smarm his way out of this one.

      1. Unfortunately I think it’ll be pretty easy for Cameron to smarm his way out of this one. He can point to prisoners being rehabilitated and a company that’s saving money.

        These would both seem to be good things. Of course you and I can look at the situation critically enough to know that the costs of creating unemployment and exploiting prison workers exceeds the benefits, but, really, amongst the general public, how many people are going to think about it that deeply?

        1. You’re right, but I don’t want you to be.

          The thing that will really get up the conservatives backs is the redundancy. Employment is still a big issue and if they have a problem with an immigrant workforce they better have a problem with a prison workforce. If not then at the very least I suppose it will show them for the not-so-closeted bigots that they are.

          Win win?

        2. The usual reason given for not paying prisoners full wages is that those law abiding citizens who have never committed a crime and the unemployed would resent it – like those people who used to work in a call centre.

      2. Let’s see cameron smarm his way out of this one.

        His friends, associates and cabinet have all either proven to be corrupt or at least photographed dining with corruption. He should have been out six months ago if anyone was paying any attention.

          1. Just to make the point- but he didn’t win.  Nobody actually won a majority at the last election, and  the government could be brought down easily, if there was a sudden outbreak of competence and spine amongst MPs.

          2. Well, true, but when you look at the coalition do you see, well, a coalition? I just see a conservative party leadership with some frowny faced lib-dems in tow – I hear about them less than I hear about labour.
            I feel sorry for the lib-dems, I think they might have made a good go at it, and instead they’re politically destroyed for at least a couple of general elections.

            Not that they don’t have themselves to blame. As you say, spineless.

          3. After the Tories kicked them in the nuts over Lords reform, they should pull out of the coalition. That might….maybe….restore some credibility. At the moment, Nick Clegg just looks like a beta toff baring his throat to his alpha.

    2. A bit like journalists who quote unnamed sources ?

      People working in the prisons sector described the scheme as “disgusting” and a “worrying development”.

  5. It’s obvious they are after of the low pay rate. No offense to those prisoners working honestly and less than the minimum but i think this is a worrying issue. As said in this article though that the prisoners have prior experience which can support why the call center hired them, i think that they should be paid higher than 6% and regulars should be retained.

  6. These prisoners are getting paid to undercut normal workers so it isn’t slavery. Using prisoners as free labour is common practise in the USA. There the prisoners might not get any pay at all thanks to the 13th amendment. If you thought the USA abolished slavery you’d be wrong.

    1. The Constitutional amendment banning slavery and involuntary servitude specifically excludes “punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” I learned this in school–we even had a class discussion about it. It is dismaying that so many people aren’t aware of it.

      For the most part, thhough, prisons now have made the servitude technically voluntary. You don’t have to sign up for it unless you want to get “good time” taken off your sentence; want to reduce the bill they give you on release for things like court fees and board; want to buy things like playing cards, hair brushes, and edible food from the prison canteen; or can’t tolerate the excruciating boredom of sitting with nothing to do all day, day after day.

    2. I’m all for prisoners doing work — but it ought to be stuff done for general public benefit, not market-distorting subsidies of existing businesses.  There’s plenty of manual labor that could be done for the public good.  California’s wildfire programs (Cal Fire) are very dependent on the manual labor of prisoners during wildfire season and it’s a program that’s never short of volunteers.  I don’t know how that plays in with what the alternatives are to prison labor, but hacking brush has to be preferable to sitting on a picnic bench in the yard.

  7. Shit, seriously?  I thought this problem was confined to the US.  I’m surprised our human rights laws even allow this.  Maybe they don’t, our government isn’t a big fan of Europe’s ‘crazy’ tendency to look out for human beings, and tends to ignore the laws at every given opportunity.

      1. But what for? The purpose of a corporation is to profit its shareholders. They appear to be doing just that. Any board of directors who did not employ the cheapest legal labour possible would be subject to dismissal for negligence and failure of duty. It’s the fact that this labour is legal is what’s broken here.

    1. I live in a city where the local police force gave men who, in some cases, had been convicted of domestic violence, reduced sentences in exchange for acting as paid informants against prostitutes the men–wearing police wiretaps–solicited.

      I’m not saying putting people convicted of fraud in a position to handle other peoples’ credit card numbers is a good idea. I’m just saying that in a world where cops get the bright idea to pay wife-beaters to enjoy the services of prostitutes and get a reduced sentence as part of the deal it doesn’t surprise me. 

    2. Only reputable corporations should be entrusted with credit card numbers.

      Like Amazon and Apple.

  8. I think I’m becoming inured to these fascist obscenities…

    For whatever reason, the usual string of impassioned epithets isn’t forthcoming; my invective fails me.

    Maybe I’m just tired.

    1. You’re probably coming up on the point I’m at: until the people are more ready to revolt against this, not just a few thousand at a time but en masse, until there’s a more dangerous mass of outrage? There isn’t a damned thing to do about it but try to figure out how to live through it, and there’s no point in even calling attention to it other than for grim entertainment value. Thirty, forty years ago it was obvious that this was where Thatcherism and Reaganomics were taking us, and with the people’s consent; until another Huey Long and another Sinclair Lewis succeed in persuading them to withdraw that consent, this is where we’re going. Might as well get used to it.

      1. Yeah, that.

        The way I see it, as long as the majority of us are happy to lap up the filth that is commercial telly and radio, we’re fucked.

      1. Have you never read Dickens? Stalin didn’t invent the gulag. It was well-established throughout Europe for centuries.

  9. Free room (with A/C and cable), free food, and a job…shit, sign me up.

    Still this is pretty low…I’m not sure if it’d been “nicer” to just up move the whole call center to Indian or somewhere else cheap or do what they did here.  At least in this case a few people still have jobs…

    I have zero problems with inmates doing work, but frankly it should be for the government/county/city/state.  There are plenty of places they could be doing manual labor where we pay people to do it now.  (Not saying I want those people to lose their job, but if a government has no money to give and they have a resource why not use it?)

  10. When you subtract the cost of housing a prisoner (about $129/day in the US), these people are making about $19/hour for an 8 hour shift. Of course, the taxpayers are paying the difference. Still, it’s wrong that civilians were sacked in favor of prison labor.

      1. I’ve never worked in a call center so I can’t say whether or not such a job is cruel, but yeah there’s definitely some corporate welfare taking place.

        1.  Cruel doesn’r begin to describe it. I’ve done both; being locked up made me wanna kill much less than call-centres.

    1. Having implemented all the instructions in 1984, the governments of the US and UK are moving on to the novels of Charles Dickens to implement the instructions for running society found therein.

      Sounds legit.

  11. Shawshank redemption, everyone :)

    Decisions made with only the question of profit lack moral ground.

    This is our society’s norm.

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