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DWP denies 'slave labour' claims
A graduate is challenging the Government in court after being made to work in Poundland for free
The Government has denied accusations of "slave labour" as a jobless graduate asked the High Court to rule her human rights were breached when she was forced to work for free in Poundland on a work experience scheme.
Cait Reilly, 23, said as she arrived at court: "Forcing people to work for free does nothing to tackle the causes of long-term unemployment." An unemployed 40-year-old is also challenging the legality of another Government work scheme that pays no wages.
Both cases seek the quashing of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 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 put out a statement saying: "We will be contesting these cases vigorously. These schemes are not slave labour. They play an important part in giving jobseekers the skills and experience they need to find work. It is entirely reasonable to ask jobseekers to take real steps towards finding work if they are claiming benefits."
Nathalie Lieven QC, appearing for Miss Reilly, told London's High Court that the geology graduate's stint at the Poundland near her home in Kings Heath, Birmingham, involved carrying out very basic tasks such as sweeping and shelf stacking five hours a day for two weeks "without training, supervision or remuneration".
The QC described Poundland as a successful private company with a net turnover of more than £500 million and reported increasing profits. Its code of conduct required it to conform to International Labour Organisation standards including workers receiving a minimum wage.
Miss Lieven said Miss Reilly graduated from Birmingham University in 2010 and first claimed jobseeker's allowance in August that year soon after graduation. She hoped to work in museums and was now undertaking voluntary work at a local museum. No-one had questioned her level of effort in seeking employment and she had been happy to look for paid work in the retail sector.
In October 2011 her Jobcentre Plus adviser told her that if she accepted a place on a "sector-based work academy" scheme she would undergo a week's training followed by a job interview, but she was not told what her rights and obligations were. There was no interview.
Ms Lieven said Jamieson Wilson, who lives in the Midlands, the second applicant for judicial review, was a 40-year-old unemployed since 2008. He was told last November he would be required to undertake up to six months of unpaid work cleaning furniture in the DWP's community action programme (CAP), and further periods of required work could follow.
Ms Lieven said Mr Wilson had recently been subjected to sanctions after refusing to take part in the scheme and now apparently faced the loss of jobseeker's allowance for six months. Ms Lieven argued the regulations underpinning the schemes did not comply with the 1995 Jobseekers Act as they failed to give details of each of the schemes and the circumstances in which individuals could be required to take part.
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