by Heidi Stevenson
The next time you’re in a hospital, how would you like to have your food brought to you by a slave laborer? If you’re in the UK, you may find out, because slave labor has already been trialed in one hospital, and is about to become standard practice there.
The Guardian reports that the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust (SWBHT), a part of the National Health Service (NHS) piloted the program with six unemployed people in consultation with the union. The trust stated that the type of work included:
… general tidying, welcoming visitors, serving drinks to patients, running errands, reading to patients and assisting with feeding patients.
… and justifies it with the statement:
We are situated in a deprived area with high unemployment and we think it is important to help get people back into work. The project gave participants the opportunity to gain confidence, training and experience, under supervision.
So why don’t they simply hire them? You know, the old-fashioned way of getting employees.
Unison, the public service trade union, isn’t happy with the plan, referring to it as a “worrying glimpse of the future”. They also point out that feeding patients and helping them to drink are direct patient care, though the trust had promised not to use the program for that purpose.
So, they were less than honest. Why should they be trusted about other claims they make regarding this program?
Because of massive NHS cuts, Ravi Subramanian, the head of the SWBHT region’s Unison union, stated:
Thousands of staff are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and wards are closing. Now the hospital is making moves to deliver healthcare on the cheap, by using people on work experience to help with patient care. Patients and staff will rightly be very worried about the standard of patient care as this scheme is rolled out.
So, what’s the purpose of this so-called training, when there obviously won’t be jobs for them when they’re done?
Calling this anything but slave labor is merely an attempt to hide the reality. People will be forced to work for up to 11 weeks—2-3 weeks in training and 8 weeks in work—for no pay other than the minuscule amount paid as job search benefits, and they won’t be able to search for real work during their peonage in a hospital.
This same system is in use by corporations to coerce young jobless people into doing menial work for no pay, as reported in Both the US and the UK Governments Support Slavery of Their Own Citizens and to force the disabled into slave labor, as reported in The Disabled to Be Used for Slave Labor: UK Government Plan. It is, of course, presented as being for the benefit of the individual, but as discussed in those articles, that’s absurd on its face.
It’s also described as being voluntary, but the experience of those involved in other similar programs clearly indicates that we should question that. Though the government appears to have pulled back on forcing people into these schemes, how long will it be until they slide right back into it? A government that not only allows slave labor, but also organizes it can surely not be trusted to do the right thing—especially when the program stinks from the get-go.
The program to use job seekers for free labor in hospitals is clearly not for the benefit of the job seekers or patients:
The laborers will be severely limited in their ability to seek real, wage-paying work while slaving away in hospitals.
Since the hospitals expect to be laying people off, it’s obvious that very few of the laborers will ever have a chance to use whatever skills they develop in paid employment.
Since they have already utilized slave labor for patient care, this cannot possibly bode well for the quality of patients’ treatment.
Calling forced labor a job training program does not change the inherent fact that forced labor is slavery. What makes this particularly disheartening is that not only is government endorsing this slavery, it’s actually organizing it—and the direct representatives of the workers, the union, is not only supporting the plan, they have been instrumental in arranging it. And the minimal payment that the slaves receive, a job search benefit that’s inadequate to live on without help from family and friends, is paid by the taxpayers!
The government now considers the people to be little more than cogs in a massive system of corruption designed to squeeze every last penny and drop of sweat out of the people.