After the Tory workfare scandals, we now have the Tories latest cheap labour scam – Prisonfare.
Tory Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke had stressed that his plans to massively expand prison labour would not have any impact on jobs
But as Shiv Malik, the Guardian’s Society correspondent reports today, roofing and environmental refitting firm Becoming Green are employing prisoners on £3 per day at their telephone sales division in Cardiff having sacked around 17 staff from their call-centre since December.
In an agreement with Prescoed minimum security prison, 23 inmates are bussed in from the open prison in South Wales to Becoming Green’s call-centre in Cardiff.
This new extension of prison labour has come under severe criticism from prisoners groups and trades unions.
Chris Bath, Chief Executive of Prisoners charity Unlock, said that getting inmates to work so long in the private sector for prisoners wages was a “worrying development”.
Steve Gillan, the Prison Officers Association’s General Secretary said that was “immoral and disgusting” for any private company to rely on the cheap labour of prisoners, whilst Unite’s Wales regional secretary said:
“This looks likes a disgraceful and worrying development which follows the UK government’s already discredited workfare scheme.
“It is nothing short of Dickensian to exploit prisoners by paying them just £3 a day while Cardiff call centre workers lose their jobs.
“This company seems to be all too readily taking advantage of cheap labour. Not only is it fundamentally immoral but it’s bad for the Welsh workforce and damaging to the Welsh economy. There should be no place for such practices in Wales today.
According to Malik’s article, this new pool of super-cheap prison labour makes up around 15% of Becoming Green’s call-centre employees, although under the arrangement with HMP Prescoed, tnis can be increased to 20%.
The company deny that workers have been replaced by prisoners, citing the sackings as “normal call-centre environment”.
But Malik’s interviews with former Becoming Green call-centre staff are very revealing.
Even a former manager at Becoming Green was damning about the company’s motives and claimed that his former employers had been creating
“reasons to … justify dismissing people from the company so they could get more prison staff in…The whole idea of what the company is doing is bringing in free labour for the business and relieving their employed staff of their responsibilities, because obviously it is more cost-effective for the business to have criminals working for them than paying a salary to each person.
“I left because I didn’t like the way the company was being run…If people are rubbish in their jobs then get rid of them, I understand that.
“But if people are coming in every day, and are generating a lot of revenue … and the next thing you know is their jobs are on the line, there’s no reason why these people should have been fired. I don’t think it is right, just to save a few a quid. These people have bills to pay.”
Activists and trade unionists need to campaign and organise against every Tory attempt to allow bosses to sack workers and employ workers on lower wages, whether via the use of agencies, privatisation, outsourcing or these latest workfare and prison labour schemes.