Unpaid Diamond Jubilee Stewards Were Forced to Sleep Under London BridgeS

Serious accusations of mistreatment are being levied against the security firm put in charge of hiring and training stewards for the river pageant portion of the Queen's diamond jubilee festivities.

Several of the "long-term unemployed jobseekers" hired by Close Protection UK allege that they were promised compensation, only to be told after getting on the bus to London that the gig was unpaid.

They further claim that the stewards expected to receive suitable accommodations, but instead were made to sleep under the London Bridge despite poor weather conditions and the concrete floor making tent-pitching an impossibility.

Their situation did not improve much during the day: The stewards were reportedly left without toilet access for 24 hours; were forced to work 14 hours in the rain with nothing but a see-through plastic poncho for protection; and were eventually dumped at a "swampy campsite outside London."

The jobseekers were told that not working at least two days meant not being eligible for a paid position during the Olympics — another contract awarded to Close Protection UK.

"London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain," one female steward said. "They couldn't give a crap … No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don't want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food."

CPUK confirmed that jobseekers were being "assessed in a live work environment" as part of their ongoing training for a paid spectator safety position, but chalked the London Bridge camp-out to "an unfortunate set of circumstances" and "not lack of care on the part of CPUK."

The UK politics blog Liberal Conspiracy wondered out loud where the £1.5m allocated toward stewarding the river pageant went. Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott has called for a formal inquiry, saying if the allegations were true, they were "appalling."

Tomorrow's People, the charity that supplied CPUK with its manpower through the UK's Work Programme, claimed it was still investigating the claims, but said it "believes strongly in the value of work experience in helping people to build the skills, confidence and CV they need to get and keep a job."

[photo via AP]