08 August 2012 #Employment
The Department for Work and Pensions` back-to-work schemes, criticised as “slavery” or “forced labour” by some opponents, have been ruled lawful by the High Court. To help recipients back to work, individuals are required to participate in these schemes that involve them providing unpaid work. A failure to participate in the scheme can result in a loss of job seekers allowance.
In R (on behalf of Reilly & Wilson) v Department of Work and Pensions the High Court considered and rejected the following question: Is it slave labour and therefore unlawful to force an individual in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance to participate in a `work for your benefit` scheme?
The case had been brought by Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson, two individuals who argued that the unpaid schemes they had been put on violated Article Four of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour. Miss Reilly, a graduate, was required to work unpaid in Poundland for two weeks, and Mr Wilson was told that he would be required to undertake 30 hours’ unpaid work per week for 26 weeks cleaning furniture.
Had the DWP lost the case, its back-to-work schemes would have been ruled invalid, significantly affecting its drive to assist people back into the workplace. The DWP failed to tell both Claimants that the work experience schemes were not mandatory. However, although these jobs were ‘menial work’, the court held that they do not amount to `slavery` or `forced labour`, especially as many employers only consider applicants who have clocked up weeks of unpaid work experience.