By Shiv Malik | The Guardian
Becoming Green, which took on prisoners for ‘work experience’, says dismissals ‘part of normal call centre environment’
A business is bussing in inmates from an open prison 21 miles away and paying them only £3 a day to work in its call centre.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that dozens of prisoners from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, south Wales, had done “work experience” for at least two months at a rate of 40p an hour in the private company’s telephone sales division in Cardiff.
People working in the prisons sector described the scheme as “disgusting” and a “worrying development”.
After establishing an arrangement with minimum-security HMP Prescoed late last year, roofing and environmental refitting company Becoming Green has taken on 23 prisoners. Currently, 12 are being paid 6% of the minimum wage.
When contacted by the Guardian last month, that figure was 17 – 15% of the company’s call centre staff.
The company confirmed that since it started using prisoners, it had fired other workers. Former employees put the number at 17 since December. However, the firm said firings were part of the “normal call-centre environment” and it had hired other staff in a recent expansion.
Becoming Green said the category D prison had allowed the company to pay the prisoners just £3 a day for at least 40 working days, but added that they could keep them at that pay level for much longer if they wanted.
A company spokesman was unable to give the longest time a prisoner had been employed on token wages. The spokesman added that, under the arrangement, they were only allowed to take a maximum of 20% of their total call centre workforce from the prison.
The MoJ confirmed that there was no centralised limit on the length of training placements, which was for prison governors to decide. The ministry said it had sought assurances from Becoming Green that prisoners were put into “genuinely vacant” posts.