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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: Prisoners allegedly paid £3 per day to replace call centre staff

handcuffs

A business in Wales that is paying inmates from an open prison just £3 per day to undertake work experience has sparked controversy amid claims that it sacked other staff to take them on.

According to the Guardian, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that dozens of people from Prescoed gaol in Monmouthshire, South Wales, had been involved for at least two months in the initiative, which was branded “disgusting” by members of the prison sector.
 
The prisoners, whose convictions apparently range from murder to fraud and drugs offences, are reportedly being paid 40p per hour to work for Becoming Green’s telephone sales division in Cardiff, to where they are being bussed on a daily basis.
 
The roofing and environmental refitting company set up the arrangement with the category D prison towards the end of last year and has reportedly taken on 23 prisoners since then, of whom 12% are being paid a mere 6% of the minimum wage.
 
Becoming Green said that it was permitted to take on a maximum of 20% of its total call centre workforce and pay inmates £3 per day for at least 40 working days, although it added that it could keep wages at that level for much longer if desired.
 
The MoJ confirmed that there was no agreed limit on the length of the prisoners’ placements, which was up to prison governors to decide. It also said that it had sought reassurances that they were being placed into “genuinely vacant” positions.
 
But a number of former Becoming Green employees have claimed that this is not the case. One attested to the newspaper that about 10 members of the call centre team had been fired before Christmas, while another seven were allegedly sacked by the time she left a few months ago after apparently feeling pushed into resigning.
 
A former manager also accused the firm of creating reasons to “justify dismissing people from the company so they could get more prison staff in”.
 
Performance issues
 
“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,” the former manager claimed.
 
But Nicola Vaughan, a senior manager at Becoming Green, attested that there had been “performance issues” with the staff who were fired.
 
“There have been a few people who have been dismissed for various reasons….but if you are trying to imply that we have replaced those people with prisoners, then that is far wrong,” she said.
 
Vaughan suggested that the people the Guardian had spoken to were a “little bit disgruntled” and pointed to the “very, very high turnover” of the contact centre industry.
 
But Andrew Neilson, assistant director of public affairs and policy at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that, while he welcomed Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke’s plans, announced in January, to double the numbers of those working inside prisons to 20,000 in less than 10 years, “it should be on the same basis as anyone else in the community”.
 
“We don’t want the issue of prisoners on day release being employed, becoming one that divides people and, effectively, people are turned against those prisoners because they’re seen to be taking people’s jobs. That’s not what should be happening,” he added.
 
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officer’s Association, said, meanwhile, that for any company to rely on cheap prisoner labour was “immoral and disgusting”.
 
“The Association wants to see prisoners working and leading law-abiding lives, but not at the expense of other workers being sacked or laid off to facilitate it. Some employers must be rubbing their hands and the shareholders laughing all the way to the bank,” he added.
Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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