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UK court deems unpaid labor program unlawful

Published time: February 13, 2013 03:59
Edited time: February 13, 2013 08:07

A road cleaner sweeps outside no 10 Downing Street in central London.(AFP Photo / Will Oliver)

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The UK’s unpaid labor program administered under the workfare scheme has been deemed illegal by the country’s High Court after a student filed a case against what critics have called 'modern day slavery' aimed at tackling unemployment in the UK.

­Twenty four-year-old University of Birmingham graduate Cait Reilly and her co-filer 40-year-old unemployed qualified mechanic, Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham have won a legal battle at the Court of Appeal after three judges ruled that it was illegal to perform labor without pay.  

Reilly claimed that she was forced to quit her voluntary post at a museum to work unpaid at Poundland discount store under the government’s policy.  If failed to comply with Workforce requirements, she was told she would lose her benefits of Jobseeker's Allowance.

Jobseeker's Allowance is a form of unemployment social security benefit paid by the government to those seeking jobs. It is designed to cover living expenses while the applicant is unemployed. The benefit is funded through National Insurance contributions.

Wilson was asked to clean furniture for 30 hours a week for six months. He refused to accept the unpaid jobs claiming that his qualifications did not match the job description and taking the position would not help him re-enter the jobs market.

After Tuesday’s ruling the defendant’s lawyers explained that only Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) remains enforced while participants of the ‘voluntary scheme’ leave anytime without the loss of any benefits.

Furthermore, legal battles can now emerge claiming back the benefits lost, Anne-Marie O’Reilley from the Boycott Workforce Campaigned has told RT.

“Every single person who has been sent on these schemes in the last two was sent on them unlawfully and tens of thousands of people who’ve faced real extreme hardships and possible destitution were having their money stopped for participating may well be entitled to claim their money back,” she says.


The Mandatory Work Activity is the stem of the scheme which started in May 2011, whereby individuals must work for their benefits. In June 2012, the scheme received a £5m expansion.

The Department for Work and Pensions say that the scheme can and will continue to aid the recovery of the youth unemployment rate of 20.5 percent.

This is needed for the government to “massage the unemployment figures,” O’Reilley says. Furthermore, previous research, the activist says “shows that they [schemes] have zero effect on helping people find work, possibly worse than doing nothing at all.”

The policy, O’Reilley believes, is instead designed to produce unpaid labor “by handing big business like ASDA, ARGOS, TESCO, Poundland, hundreds of thousands of hours of unpaid work, effectively replacing the jobs that would exist if these schemes weren’t in place.”

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