Govt rejects Prescott accusations
The Government has hit back at Lord Prescott’s claims that it “exploits cheap labour”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman today insisted it was an “isolated incident” when unpaid employees at the Jubilee pageant had been left under London Bridge in the early hours of Sunday morning.
She said: "We understand the company involved has apologised, but more broadly the Work Programme is about giving people who have been out of the workplace for some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that's sustainable. So this is a one-off."
But Lord Prescott likened the situation to the “development of labour camps” and confirmed he had written to Theresa May about the issue.
The Labour peer also accused the Government of preparing to replace contracted and skilled security workers with cheap labour at the Olympic Games.
"I already know, from my information, they’re already beginning to replace contracted workers, skilled workers, in some high security situations, by this cheap labour and by this company," he told BBC News.
But Molly Prince, the managing director of Close Protection UK – the company at the heart of the scandal – said the reports of bad conditions had been “exaggerated” and insisted her company does not exploit free labour.
She told the Today programme: “The whole situation has been exaggerated and we’re talking about two or three people complaining out of 220 staff that were supplied to the event.
“It was badly handled and for that we’ve extensively apologised. We’re not in the business of exploiting free labour.”
Labour MP Tom Watson has also voiced his disapproval. He tweeted today: "Young people as commodities with few rights in a show of opulence by state elites? Isn't there a powerful symbolism to that?"
The TUC's Brendan Barber joined in the criticism. The union's general secretary said the case "highlights the damage that unpaid work experience risks causing people who are desperate to get back into proper employment, as well as the exploitative treatment that they can face."
John Biggs, a Labour member of the London Assembly has also written to Mayor Boris Johnson seeking assurances the "truly scandalous" situation will not repeat itself in the summer's Olympics.
However, Stephen Timms, a former Labour minister in the Department of Work and Pensions, warned that it would be a mistake to draw conclusions about the Government’s Work Programme from the incident.
"There are many, many problems with the work programme, but I don't think this incident last weekend tells us very much about what's happening with the work programme," he said.