Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Claimants challenge government's forced labour scheme in the courts!

ON Tuesday (26/6/12), lawyers acting for two claimants, challenged the legality of the government's forced labour scheme known as the 'Work Programme'. Cait Reilly 23, a geology graduate from Kings Heath, Birmingham, and Jamieson Wilson 41, also from the Midlands, are asking the High Court to declare the programme unlawful.   
Nathalie Leven QC, who is representing both claimants, told the court that Reilly had given up a voluntary post in a museum to take the unpaid placement at Poundland because she'd been told by the Jobcentre, that she would lose her £53.45 a week Jobseeker's Allowance if she didn't do the placement. She said that Ms. Reilly had been been illegally forced to take part in the scheme under the 'menace of penalty' which amounted to a form of forced labour, which breached article four of the European convention on human rights. The court heard that Reilly had been made to do 'menial work', which involved sweeping floors and stacking shelves, which did not contribute to her search for work to any extent. She'd also been promised a job interview with Poundland if she completed her two week training, but this never materialised. The Court was told that Poundland was a successful firm with a turnover of £500m and that Reilly's placement, did not contribute to the public interest.
The court heard that Wilson, a trained mechanical engineer and an HGV driver, (who had been unemployed since 2008), had been put on the 'Community Action Programme' and had been expected to work unpaid for six months washing and cleaning furniture, for an unnamed organisation. He'd refused to attend the programme and had been stripped of his benefits and was now relying on friends and family to survive. 
Nathalie Leven told the court that thousands of people who'd been put on the unpaid schemes had no access to information setting out what they had been expected to do. This failure by the government to make information publicly available, meant that claimants did not know their rights. She pointed out that as regards Ms. Reilly, had she had access to information, she could have told her advisor that she could not have been sanctioned if she didn't agree to start the scheme. Consequently, under the 2009 Welfare Reform Act almost half a dozen of the DWP's schemes, were operating illegally and the way they were administered, was 'blatantly unlawful'. (See press release from Public Interest Lawyers).Paul Nichols QC, who is presenting the case for the government, told the court that if the 'Jobseekers' won their review, the government's employment strategy would be in disarray. He said:
'The only effect of such provision is that a person needs to do the required acts in order to be paid benefit. They are not forced to do those acts.' 
Although the case is expected to end on Wednedsday, a judgement will be given in due course. For further updates see the link to 'Boycott Workfare' available on this blog.

No comments: