Between January and November 2011 58,000 people in the UK worked for free for high-street shops, charities and government departments as part of the government’s “Mandatory Work Activity” or “Work Experience” programmes.
Both “workfare” schemes involve unemployed people working 30 hours a week whilst receiving at most £53.45 a week (under 25s) or £67.50 (over 25s).
On the MWA project people who are deemed not to be trying hard enough are forced to work for four weeks. If they refuse to work their benefits are cut for 16 weeks for the first time, six months for the second time and, under the Welfare Reform Bill, three years for the third time.
The WE programme is optional, though claimants are sometimes not informed that the “job” they are applying for is unpaid.
The Boycott Workfare Campaign has collected stories about the attitude of managers towards this new source of cheap labour. In one a man involved in a workfare programme at Tesco (which has been in the news over this issue recently) was told he wouldn’t be given a job because the manager could easily phone the Job Centre and get a new group of free workers. Workfare is taking away paying jobs and putting people into situations where they feel unable to speak out against management bullying or unsafe working conditions, for fear of losing their benefits.
The TUC reaffirmed its opposition to workfare schemes in 2010, but in January of this year the Communication Workers’ Union executive issued a letter to its members in Royal Mail stating that “following full consultation on the detail of the initiative the CWU are pleased to support the Royal Mail Work Experience Programme” which will see 10 people in each region being drafted in to work, unpaid, for 25-30 hours a week.
Boycott Workfare has rightly condemned this shameful position and is calling on CWU activists and branches to press their leadership in to opposing workfare.
The “Boycott Workfare” campaign has called a day of action targeting employers participating in the scheme on Saturday 3 March. Companies involved include Tescos, Asda, Holland & Barrett, Primark, HMV, and Topshop.
For more details, see here.