The Diamond Jubilee celebrations are over, but one group of people were definitely not rejoicing. In fact, they will probably remember the occasion for all the wrong reasons.
According to The Guardian a group of long-term unemployed job-seekers were bussed into London to work as volunteer stewards. These volunteer stewards were unpaid and made to work throughout the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, in awful conditions. The group had to sleep under London Bridge before they worked on the river pageant.
There were up to 30 job-seekers and 50 individuals on apprentice wages who were driven to London on a coach. The coach travelled from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as a part of the government Work scheme.
Two unemployed job-seekers, who did not want to be named, because they feared losing their benefits, told the Guardian that they had to sleep under London Bridge the night before the pageant. Not only did they have to sleep under London Bridge, they were also made to change into security uniform in public, had no toilet facilities for 24 hours, and were driven to a swamp ridden campsite on the outskirts of London after completing a 14-hour shift in heavy rain, on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.
One young female worker told the Guardian that she worked between London Bridge and Tower Bridge during the £12m river pageant whilst a 1,000 boat flotilla passed by with members of the Royal family in it. She was given a plastic see-through poncho and a high-visibility jacket by the security firm, "Close Protection UK" to protect her against the rain. Close Protection UK were the security firm who won the contract for the jubilee events.
Close Protection said that it was using up to 30 unpaid employees and 50 apprentices, who were paid a measly £2.80 per hour, during the three day event in London. Close Protection had promised staff that the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, for which it also won a contract to staff. Close Protection expected unpaid staff to work at least two days out of the three day holiday.
Close Protection said they had spent a large amount of money and resources on training and equipment that staff could keep. They went on to say, "the experience the staff were gaining was voluntary and did not affect job seekers benefits."
The woman told the Guardian that after they had been picked up at Bristol at 11p.m they headed for London, arriving at 3 am on Sunday. "We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them," she said. "We followed them under London Bridge and that's where they told us to camp out for the night … It was raining and freezing."
One 30 year old steward said that they were told to get their heads down and sleep. Apparently it was not possible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor. At 5.30a.m they were woken up, given boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. They told the women to get changed on the minibus, but when they got to it, it was locked. They waited around, but nobody came to unlock it. In the end, they had to get changed in public, in the pouring rain. The men got changed under the bridge.