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Government urged to investigate Capita and FDM Group's training schemes

Sarah Butler
Both companies demand job hunters carry out three or four months of unpaid training before they are put forward for salaried work. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

The government has been urged to investigate graduate training schemes likened to “tied servitude” run by outsourcing firms Capita and FDM Group.

Both companies, which are major suppliers of IT and management professionals to government departments including the Home Office and blue-chip firms such as BP, demand job hunters carry out three or four months of unpaid training before they are put forward for salaried work.

Trainees must then work for two years or be potentially liable for fees of more than £20,000 for the training courses, as first revealed by the Guardian last year.

Frank Field, the Labour MP and chair of the parliamentary work and pensions committee, has written to the business secretary, Greg Clark, asking if he would “consider a public inquiry into the extent and consequences” of the practice and if further protection for workers was required.

The letter, seen by the Guardian, added there were “significant doubts” about whether the training fees reflected their true costs.

Field said: “My main concern here is around how the practice is, in effect, trapping vulnerable workers in a particular arrangement over an extended period of time regardless of whether they need to leave the scheme for family, health or professional reasons.”

Field’s intervention came as it emerged that Capita had changed its policy in the past fortnight, ditching a demand that graduates pay for training if they leave within two years. The policy shift happened after the company received notification of legal action involving a former trainee.

Capita told BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme, which airs on Saturday:“The repayment clauses for training used in 2015 comply with current legislation and are common practice in the industry, however they are no longer used.”

Last week the firm’s website was still informing participants they would be required to pay for training, but – by late on Thursday – this had changed.

The campaigning barrister Jolyon Maugham, founder of the Good Law Project, who is backing the legal case against Capita and FDM’s schemes, said Capita’s statement was a “tacit acknowledgement that it was in breach of common law rule that you shall not restrict someone’s ability to earn a livelihood”.

Maugham, who has described the schemes as “tied servitude”, added: “Unless there are assurances from Capita that it will permanently discontinue this abhorrent practice and release young men and women permanently labouring under this bond, we intend to go to the high court to release them.”

The legal team pursuing the action, which has so far raised £15,000 via a crowdfunding site of a £50,000 target, is also continuing proceedings against FDM, which described a two-year lock-in for trainees as a “bond” in its annual report.

FDM was unavailable for comment but previously told the Guardian that it had “a clear and unwavering commitment for all trainees and employees to be treated and compensated fairly and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations”.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it did not comment on individual cases.