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UK court rejects claims that two work programs amount to slave labor

The UK High Court ruled [judgment] Monday that two government back-to-work schemes do not constitute slave labor, rejecting plaintiffs' arguments that the programs breach human rights laws on slavery. The court's ruling upholds [Guardian report] the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 underlying the Work Academy Scheme and the Community Action Programme, both established by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) [official website; press release] to provide job seekers with skills and experience to aid their job search through unpaid work experience at participating employers. The court did rule that Cait Reilly, 23, and Jamieson Wilson, 40, were each entitled to a declaration that there had been breaches of the jobseeker's allowance regulations, criticizing the DWP for its lack of clarity over the potential loss of unemployment benefits for those who enroll and then fail to take part in the programs without good reason. Reilly, for example, when she signed up for the Work Academy Scheme on its opening day, did not know that she would have to put in an unpaid two weeks at her local Poundland [corporate website], or risk losing the jobless benefits she had been receiving since graduating from school a year earlier. However, the court ruled that article four [text] of the European Convention on Human Rights [official website], which bans forced labor and slavery, is a long way removed from the present case and is completely inapplicable to the circumstances surrounding the work programs. DWP has revised its literature and forms for the programs for the time being but plans to appeal the court's declarations that there were breaches of the regulations.

Forced labor and slavery are serious issues that seriously affect many people around the world. This week the International Labor Organization (ILO) [official website] Domestic Workers Convention (DWC) [text] was ratified by the Philippines, giving the international treaty its second ratification and paving the way for the convention to enter full force of law. Domestic workers are frequent victims of forced labor, and the ILO created the DWC to set the first global standards for domestic workers worldwide to ensure they receive generally the same protections available to other workers [JURIST report] such as weekly days off, work hour limits, limits on in-kind payment, minimum wage, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, and other benefits. In June the ILO released a report on forced labor, estimating that nearly 21 million people around the world work in forced labor [JURIST report] and noting that women represent 55 percent of forced laborers worldwide. The agency adopted the DWC [JURIST report] at last year's annual meeting of ILO member states, the 100th Session of the International Labor Conference [official website]. The ILO is a specialized agency of the UN.

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