NWPC logoi ii






Today, the three Probation unions, UNISON, Napo and the GMB, are referring the UK Government to the International Labour Organisation (“ILO”).


We are doing this because the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation proposals will breach the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention by handing over the supervision of Community Payback to the private sector. The Convention expressly requires forced labour, carried out under a court order, to be supervised by the public sector and for those undertaking the labour not to be placed at the disposal of private companies.

What is the ILO?

The ILO is a United Nations agency that is devoted to promoting internationally recognised human and labour rights. Underlying the ILO’s work is the importance of cooperation between governments and employers’ and workers’ organisations in encouraging social and economic progress.

The ILO seeks to promote international labour standards through a system of Conventions, and a supervisory system to help ensure that countries implement the Conventions they sign up to. These Conventions establish internationally recognised labour standards, and cover a wide range of subjects such as: freedom of association, collective bargaining and industrial relations, forced labour, child labour and discrimination.

The representations procedure

The representations procedure grants trade unions the right to make a representation against any Member State which, in their view, “has failed to secure in any respect the effective observance within its jurisdiction of any Convention to which it is a party”. On receipt of a representation, the ILO will set up a committee to examine and report on the representation and the government’s response. The committee’s report will state the legal and practical aspects of the case, examine the information submitted, and conclude with recommendations. Where the government’s response is not considered satisfactory, the ILO is entitled to publish the representation and the response.

The ILO Convention on Forced Labour

The United Kingdom ratified (brought into force) the Forced Labour Convention on 3 June 1931. The Convention provides that each country that ratifies the Convention undertakes to suppress the use of forced labour in all forms.

The Convention defines forced labour as all work which is exacted from a person under the menace of penalty and for which that person has not offered themselves voluntarily. There are a number of limited exemptions to this definition, which permit some forms of forced labour. One of the exemptions, which allows Community Payback, is:

  • Where work is exacted from a person as a consequence of a criminal conviction; and
  • The work is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority; and
  • That person is not placed at the disposal of private individuals or companies.

Community Payback

The supervision, monitoring and delivery of Community Payback was, until recently, carried out exclusively by public sector Probation Trusts; thereby meeting all the terms of the above exemption. However, in 2012 the Ministry of Justice awarded the London Community Payback contract to the private contractor Serco.

Under the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ programme, there are now plans to roll-out the privatisation of a large range of probation functions, including Community Payback, across the whole of England and Wales. If these plans come to fruition, it is anticipated that all Community Payback will be run by private sector organisations by the autumn of this year.

Breach of the Forced Labour Convention

The Unions submit that such outsourcing to the private sector is in breach of the Convention. In summary:

  1. The work performed under Community Payback is forced labour within the definition of the Convention; but
  2. While work under Community Payback is exacted from an offender as a consequence of a criminal conviction, under the existing London Community Payback contract and under the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ plans it: (i) is not carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and

(ii) involves those subject to Community Payback being placed at the disposal of private companies.

What are the Unions asking the ILO to do?

The Unions argue that the provision of Community Payback by non-public sector bodies, such as Serco in London, is a violation of the ILO Forced Labour Convention. There is now a breach of the Convention in relation to the London Community Payback contract awarded to Serco, and there will be further breaches if and when the Government awards other contracts, involving the delivery of Community Payback, to private sector bodies.

The Unions are therefore requesting that the ILO holds that the UK has violated and is proposing to violate the Forced Labour Convention in respect of its Transforming Rehabilitation proposals.