David Cameron's government breaching anti-slavery legislation
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David Cameron's government breaching anti-slavery legislation

Norwich : United Kingdom | Feb 12, 2013 at 7:12 AM PST
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David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Lib-Dem coalition government suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday, as an appellate court ruled that elements of its back-to-work graduate program violates international anti-slavery regulations.

“The government's back-to-work schemes have suffered a setback after Appeal Court judges agreed with a university graduate's claim that unpaid schemes were legally flawed,” the BBC declared in a tactful report.

Sky News called the court's ruling, “a blow for the government's back-to-work schemes.”

The BBC online article describes how Cait Reilly, 24, claimed that requiring her to work for nothing at a Poundland store breached laws on forced labor.

Initially, the UK's high court ruled against Reilly in favor of the government's program, but Tuesday, her appeal was successful when the presiding judges reversed the earlier decision.

“Judges quashed the regulations underpinning the work schemes.” said the BBC report.

“Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton, sitting in London, ruled that the regulations behind most of the back-to-work schemes were unlawful and quashed them,” wrote Sky News.

Another individual, Jamieson Wilson, 40, an unemployed heavy goods vehicle driver from Nottingham, who was stripped of his jobseeker's allowance for refusing an unpaid cleaning role, also won his legal challenge, added the Sky report.

According to the story, Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, Britain and Ireland's largest trade union, called Reilly a "hero for challenging this flawed scheme."

But the Government is pointing out that “the judges had agreed requiring people to join the schemes was legal, meaning they could continue.”

And, in what may be interpreted as a face-saving strategy, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said it would appeal the ruling while also drafting new regulations immediately to remove "any uncertainty."

According to the BBC, Solicitor Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, which represented Reilly and Wilson, said: "This judgment sends [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions] Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court's ruling."

"Until that time, nobody can be lawfully forced to participate in schemes affected such as the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme," she continued, adding, "All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them."

Reilly said that in November 2011, she had to give up voluntary work she did at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, under a scheme known as the "sector-based work academy."

“She was told that if she did not carry out the work placement - which, she said, involved stacking shelves and cleaning floors - she would lose her Jobseeker's Allowance,” said the BBC report.

Speaking to the media outside the court Tuesday, Reily said she was delighted with the ruling, claiming that making her give up her voluntary work and sending her to Poundland was wrong.

"Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job," she said. "I was not given any training, and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs. The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multimillion-pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory."

"I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working," Reilly added.

She said she hoped the government would "rethink" how it tackled long-term unemployment.

"I agree we need to get people back to work, but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them," said Reilly.

Opinion

This writer’s employment of more than five years with Surinder Kandola’s DPGS Ltd. Domino’s Pizza franchise - another multimillion pound company – was terminated last year, leading me to apply for unemployment benefits for the first time since moving to England in 2006.

My experience of dealing with Jobcentre Plus, a division of the Department of Work and Pensions, has left me with serious questions about the objectivity of its operations and processes.

Like Reilly, I would work anywhere. I have in fact been applying at supermarkets, restaurants and anywhere I thought there might be an opening. I have only scaled back my employment-seeking efforts marginally of late because I have increased my self-employment activity – especially my writing for Allvoices.

What worries me deeply about the DWP, Jobcentre Plus and other governments departments that I have come into contact with is their apparent assumption that all unemployed people are trying to “cheat the system.”

I find the Mitt Romney-like, 47 percent “takers” assumptions of persons in these departments – and indeed in and around Cameron’s government deeply offensive.

And when I consider that my efforts to advance my own self-employed and other earnings both before and since I became unemployed may have been stymied or obstructed by some politicians or business people with political connections in Norwich, that sense of grievance is profoundly deepened.

When I hear the simplistic, capitalist-communist bilge spouted by persons in positions of authority, I despair for England’s political leadership and for those whose duty it is to implement their policies.

Perhaps if they could somehow be motivated to extend to workers the generosity of spirit, benefit of the doubt and other goodwill that they now extend to persons in the gay community, the kind of “slavery-promoting” embarrassment the government is now facing could be avoided.

Perhaps if those preaching the “big society” could resist the temptation to accommodate the indulgences of privileged persons making up enclaves of corporate or other “pig societies,” they would more clearly discern who is really doing the unethical, excessive “taking” and “enslaving."

I stand ready to help.

I have initiated a process of collaboration with my local parliamentarian, MP Simon Wright of the Liberal Democrats, toward this end.

But I am happy to work with Labour, Conservative, Christian or Muslim, male or female, young or old, gay or straight – essentially, whosoever will work with me -- toward such discerning ends.

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Junior Campbell is based in London, England, United Kingdom, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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