An article in the Guardian today (8 August 2012) tells how a call centre in Wales has laid off 15% of their employees, and replaced them with prisoners from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, paying them 40p per hour – just 6% of the Minimum Wage!
The roofing and environmental refitting company Becoming Green has taken on a staff of 23 prisoners. Currently 12 are being paid just 6% of the minimum wage. The law specifically exempts prisoners from any right to the minimum wage,which suits Becoming Green just fine – it confirmed that since it started using prisoners, it had fired other workers – regular workers who do have the right to be paid the minimum wage.. Former employees put the number of workers laid off at 17 since December.
Becoming Green claim that there had been “performance issues” with the employees who had been fired; but the workers themselves say they were meeting targets and had worked as required. Workers and ex-employees say it’s obvious that Becoming Green had sacked the regular workers because they can get slave labourers from the prison to do the same work for pennies.
Spokespersons for the Howard League for Penal Reform and prisoners’ charity Unlock said they’d never before heard of prisoners being used like this, taking jobs from other people while being prison wages – a derisory £3 per day that was dubiously justified as “training rates”.
So,is this another way for the booming private prison industry to finance itself – allowing businesses to use inmates as slave labour in return for kick-backs? Why else would the prisons let their inmates be taken advantage of in this way?
Apparently Kenneth Clarke wants to increase the number of prisoners working for outside companies. But speaking about the expansion of prison work from 10,000 to 20,000 prisoners over the next decade, Clarke told the BBC last month: “It would be a very serious downside if we started replacing job opportunities for law-abiding people, and we’ve been conscious of that all the way through.” Was this ignorance? Or a calculated lie?
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said that for any company to rely on cheap labour of prisoners was “immoral and disgusting”.
He went on:
The association wants to see prisoners working and leading law-abiding lives but not at the expense of other workers being sacked or laid off to facilitate it.
Some employers must be rubbing their hands and the shareholders laughing all the way to the bank.
The ministers must be held to account if the factual position is this company has sacked workers to employ prisoners … The general public will be outraged if this proves to be widespread and proper scrutiny of contracts needs to be made public to ensure public confidence.
Private prisons, government-approved slave-labour, honest workers being sacked to make room for slaves with no right to the minimum wage… who’d a thunk it?
Well, quite a few people would have seen this coming – the cranks, the crackpops, the tin-foil hat brigade. Remember that, when you hear another outlandish conspiracy theory…