Over the weekend visitors intent on celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee flocked to London, pitching up tents by the Thames in the hopes of securing the best views of the 1,000-boat flotilla that would take to the water on Sunday. However, for a certain group of stewards brought in to provide security for the celebration, their night camping out under London Bridge was less voluntary.
According to a report by The Guardian, the security firm Close Protection UK is accused of busing in as many as 80 people to help handle security for Sunday’s Jubilee river pageant while paying them little, if any, salary. All of the staffers, from outlying cities Plymouth, Bath and Bristol, were either unemployed or serving apprenticeships, and had been hired for the event under a government work program.
The stewards were also informed they would have to sleep under London Bridge — owing to what the security company said was a scheduling mistake made by the bus driver the company had hired for the journey.
While camping in the freezing cold and rain is a traditional British pastime—although usually as part of a family vacation and in a muddy campsite — the conditions the workers faced have caused uproar. According to the report, the stewards had no access to toilets during their 14-hour shift and were told they would have to change into their security uniforms in public — leading to an outcry on Twitter and accusations of “slave labor”. The same security firm has also landed a contract to provide stewards for the 2012 Olympic Games, and ex-deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is calling for an inquiry, alluding to the Jubilee scandal being just the tip of the iceberg:
Officials from Close Protection UK did not respond to requests for comment beyond the statement issued earlier to the Guardian, in which the company explained that the Jubilee security job was merely a tryout for candidates interested in Olympics jobs later in the summer, and denied accusations of a lack of care towards its staff. “London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain,” one female steward, who did not want to be identified, told the Guardian. “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.”