Jobless graduate asks judges to outlaw ‘slave’ work schemes
Unemployed graduate, Cait Reilly, asked the High Court to rule that it was unlawful to force her to work unpaid stacking shelves at Poundland, claiming the Government’s back to work scheme was nothing more than slave labour.
2:11PM BST 26 Jun 2012
Arriving at court, Miss Reilly, who studied geology, said: “Forcing people to work for free does nothing to tackle the causes of long-term unemployment.”
Miss Reilly had been claiming job seekers’ benefits since 2011 after she failed to find work after graduating in 2010.
The 23-year-old had been volunteering at a museum in the hope that it would lead to paid work.
Lawyers at the High Court said she was forced to undertake the “unpaid menial work” or risk losing benefits. Legal teams for Miss Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, 40, another job seeker claimant, are seeking to have two back-to-work schemes – the Community Action Programme and Work Academy Scheme – declared unlawful.
Both cases seek the quashing of Department for Work and Pensions regulations under which the schemes were set up and declarations that there have been violations of article four of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery. As the challenges got under way, the DWP issued a statement: “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.”
Miss Reilly signed up to a Work Academy Scheme open day not knowing that it would require her to complete two weeks of free labour at Poundland last November. The programme allowed for training and a job interview at the end of the course but Miss Reilly said no job interview ever took place.
Mr Wilson was ordered to undertake 30 hours unpaid labour a week cleaning furniture for six months. The mechanic, who has been claiming benefits since 2008, refused to undertake the work because it did not relate to his chosen field. He now faces losing his benefits for up to six months.
Nathalie Lieven, QC, for the job seekers, said Miss Reilly was never told that by signing up to the open day she would have to undertake two weeks unpaid work.
She told the court: “She only participated because she was told by the adviser the training was mandatory and that she had to attend. She was informed that she risked sanctions if she did not attend by losing her allowance or having it reduced.”
The work experience aspect of the scheme is no longer mandatory.
The lawyer said it was agreed that the scheme was not publicly printed but claimants were expected to rely on their job seeker adviser to explain their rights under the various schemes.
The hearing continues.