Monday 6 August 2012

Forced Unpaid Labour Is Lawful – But Benefits Sanctions Broke Law Rules High Court Judge

In a decision that will make ministers breathe a huge sigh of relief and leaves campaigners against workfare raging with fury, High Court judge Justice Foskett ruled that forcing the unemployed to work for free is lawful.

However, Justice Foskett did rule that stripping claimants of their benefits for refusing compulsory unpaid work was unlawful.

    Cait Reilly, from Birmingham and Jamieson Wilson from Nottingham had both made claims that forcing them to work unpaid on workfare schemes had violated their rights under Article IV of the  European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits slavery and forced labour.

Reilly, a geology graduate from Birmingham University, was already carrying out voluntary work experience in a museum when she was sent on the Government’s work experience scheme to stack shelves and sweep floors for no pay at Poundland, a profitable company with a turnover of £500m.

Wilson had trained and worked as a mechanical engineer and a HGV driver before becoming unemployed in 2008. He refused to provide his labour for free for the government’s Community Action Programme (CAP) pilot and as a result was stripped of his benefits. Since then he has been relying on family and friends to survive.

Justice Foskett, however, stated that “characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.

However, Justice Foskett did agree that mistakes had been made in how the Department of Work and Pensions failed to fully inform Reilly about the requirements of the Work Academy scheme and how the DWP also failed to provide Wilson with adequate notice of the Community Action Programme.

This has far-reaching ramifications for the Tory workfare policy.

As Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers who represented Reilly and Wilson stated:

“As of January 2012, over 22,000 people have been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme alone. That figure must now have doubled. Today’s decision should mean that many of those that have been subjected to benefit sanctions will be entitled to re-imbursement by the Department of Work and Pensions. Its truly extraordinary that the Government should find itself in this position for failing to provide basic information to those affected.

We welcome the Court’s ruling on this issue but we continue to maintain that the Regulations themselves are unlawful and ought to be quashed. We are seeking permission to appeal the Court’s findings in this regard.”

No doubt Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith and Employment minister Chris Grayling will be pleased that  Justice Foskett’s ruling had not totally invalidated workfare.  However,  the judgement that benefit sanctions were unlawful leaves them with a gigantic headache.

Effectively, the Government has stolen millions of pounds in benefits from the poorest in our society.

Ruling that forcing people to work is not forced labour is indeed a perverse judgement, though

However, in taking the Government to the high court,  Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson with the support of Public Interest Lawyers they have  served to put the government’s flagship employment policy under severe pressure and raise the profile of the fight against workfare and will help build the protests.

Time and time again we have learned through many injunctions taken by employers against strikes, that unelected judges tend to favour the  rich and powerful and that they cannot be relied upon to deliver justice.

We must use the fury at the High Court’s rescue of workfare and the latest dent in the Tories workfare policy to build bigger and deeper protests against workfare.



  1. name supplied. said:

    The DWP is having to reimburse unpaid benefit only where they didn’t notify people at the right time. The DWP just have to correct the letters, and then it will go ahead as planned. The programme is similar to slavery in recent times in the US. Slaves would be given a bare minimum to sustain life, and then work for free. The only difference is that people aren’t bought and sold. The impact on the individual is very similar. The judge complained about the claim, stating it was insulting to those elsewhere facing real oppression. This judgement and the programme is oppression.

    6 August 2012 at 9:42pm
  2. name supplied said:

    It is extraordinary and very worrying that one of our UK judges has determined that workfare is legal.
    It is so obviously a form a slavery, I cannot see why there is claimed to be an ambiguity at all here.
    This judges decision just underlines how fascist our government has become.
    This must be challenged by us all, or worse oppressions will come.

    7 August 2012 at 4:16am
  3. David Bell said:

    Judges are very rich and donnot care about the poor

    7 August 2012 at 10:24pm
  4. Cyberwolf said:

    Next stop The Court of Appeals and The European Court of Human Rights. There is NO place in Justice for ‘Slavery’ – however it is dressed-up, it still carries the “threat” of retribution and has no ‘contemporary thought’ behind it. It deserves to become little more than a ‘Wikipedia’ reference.. The Judge was WRONG, and he will stand as an indictment of the rise and rise of a Fascist State in Britain.. “So perish all tyrants…”

    9 August 2012 at 2:06pm
  5. Ian said:

    Whilst workfare may be legal, it’s totally immoral that genuine job seekers are being forced to work 30 hrs in an industry that is unlikely to offer them experience and gives companies cheap disposable labour. I’m sure most would be happy ( as I am ) doing a mixture of voluntary (charity shop) and relevant to my area, training.

    As regards the letters, the Job centre used to ask you to sign a copy so why do work providers not have to do the same ?

    9 August 2012 at 5:26pm
  6. David fields said:

    It’s abundantly clear that Workfare is unlawful and unfair. It’s astounding that those in the judisery, privileged from birth are not in touch with reality and cannot be trusted to make the right decisions especially in cases of Workers v Rich. 

    If Workfare was attractive to workers, we would be lining up to get placements. The sad truth is that it offers little to nothing to us and benefits the rich with free labour. The formulae is simple; pay workers, unemployed or otherwise an industrial wage for all work they do and stop cheating society. The country is in a mess simply because the rich are taking their millions out of the country instead of paying apropriately for the services of workers, who in turn pay the full rate of income tax.

    Slave labour and tax dodging/avoidance must stop, the rich must use their million to bring this country out of recession instead of squirrelling it away over seas. 

    Treat workers fairly and with dignity, stop cheating society of proper income. It’s not right that we, the ordinary workers work for free and when if lucky enough to be employed pay or tax bill in full whilst the richest in our society dodge, avoid and pay themselves excessive wages and bonus.

    11 August 2012 at 7:15am
  7. John said:

    I had my benefits stopped for declining a job placement with a corrupt Armagh ‘organisation’ called Wade training, after they had constantly misled me that I would get a placement with a reputable company and then tried to force me to work in a farmers 2nd business. When I said no, they told the benefits office they promptly withdrew my benefits.

    26 August 2012 at 11:23am
  8. Wrong for anyone to be smug said:

    Surely if the jobs are there as free labour, then surely they can be made into paid jobs. I don’t want any lectures or judgement passed on benefit claimants, please. Allow them some escape, they can’t force people to give them work. As for being scroungers a lot of people claiming their benefits have paid their taxes so they’re simply claiming back what they have paid into the system. It’s wrong for anyone to be smug as unemployment can strike anyone at any time. I never pass judgement on anyone as I have no right to. We all have different reasons and individual circumstances. I doubt anyone aspires to be on benefits but sadly not everyone is given the same opportunities, like I said they cannot force employers to give them a job. xx

    22 October 2012 at 10:53pm
  9. m king said:

    Is there a legal challenge to JSA sanctions?

    28 September 2013 at 7:26pm

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