Workfare has paved the way for companies to openly abuse their ability to use free labour, and this carries with it a dangerous attitude towards those struggling for work.
Here are some of the stories we have found from those who have unfortunately been put through the system:
“I personally know a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay. He said he was given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked “with pay”? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing of face sanctions meaning loss of ALL benefits for up to three years!
My friend wasn’t alone, he was part of twelve extra staff taken on to cover the xmas rush, no one was given a job at the end of the xmas period.
He told me they had all worked really hard and were gutted they were abused in such a way. The worst was one day he had to throw out lots of food one day over the use by date. He asked the manager if he could take some home as he was having to eat more due to being active all day. The manager refused saying if he gave him free food he wouldn’t come through the front door and buy it!
I swear I will never shop at Tesco ever again.”
“I’ve just got back from my respite evening out and feel like sticking my head in a gas oven (shame mine is electric).
Up until a year or so ago, there were four people, 3 ladies and one man, with downs syndrome, who used to spend a raucous Monday evening in the pub. I haven’t seen them for ages but tonight they came in.
Later I was chatting to the landlady and she told me that until last summer all four of them were in paid work, three of them for the same employer. Then. all of a sudden they were all laid off.
Now, all four of them are on workfare, with the only opportunities offered to them, voluntary work. Most shittingly, the company that employed three of them are part of the workfare scheme and have taken one of the ladies back. But of course she doesn’t get paid.
A year ago, these were four very independent people. They brought their own drinks, had their meals, played the fruit machines and chatted to other customers.
Now, they have sod all.
Thankfully the landlady is a good soul and lets them have a drink and meal for nothing.
But it shouldn’t be that way.”
“Just Crap” – a post by Mark Neary from Love, Belief and Balls
“I wanted to give an account of my work placement, as this is forced on people who have no option but to do this or lose their benefit. This is the only source of income that I have (as is the situation with others on benefit). I am happy for this to be used as case study for health and safety procedure. Names have been changed.
My placement was for a month at the place that I worked. I worked for 30 hours a week (I was paid via Flexible New Deal at £67.50 a week, that translates to being paid £2.19 an hour). The work was physical. Looking for work when physically exhausted was hard and often too difficult to do. I did work for a charity and the land I worked was I think owned by the charity.
Some health and safety procedures were explained by the person supervising me on the placement (Marion). Kat (Flexible New Deal provider supervisor) asked if I had work boots, which I said I didn’t, but that I had some regular boots.
I wore these boots, which had been ok-ed by Kat. When doing manual work I trod on a plank of wood and got a nail stuck in my foot. There was no supervisor available, and I was working away from the main site. I stayed to the end of the day and treated it when I got home. I felt unable to say anything about health and safety due to my fear of losing benefits.
No one from the Flexible New Deal provider supervised whilst I was there.
Before I went on the placement I did tell the Job Centre I was going on placement.
When explaining how the placement operates the Job Centre was confused whilst signing back on to Job Seekers Allowance. This was not the reason that my benefits were delayed, as it was explained to me by the Housing Benefit staff. I signed an agreement with the Job Centre tell them if I was doing any work paid or unpaid. This could be why they were confused about the system (which has been in place for over a year). My housing benefit was delayed by about 3-5 days whilst going onto the placement and then after when going off the placement, (so was delayed in two months) my Job Seekers Allowance was not affected.”
‘Health And Safety Concerns‘ – a story submitted to Boycott Workfare
“After being unemployed for over eight months in Hull, one of the worst areas for unemployment in the country, I was put onto a ‘voluntary’ work experience scheme.
The Jobcentre had been mentioning the Work Experience scheme to me for a good few weeks when they phoned me up to put me forward for what they called a “brilliant opportunity”. This amounted to a four to eight week placement at a Home Bargains store with a possible job at the end of the placement – if they chose to ‘keep us on’.
In the end I worked 30 hours a week for the full eight weeks (almost double the contracted hours we would have if we got the job) – six hours a day, Monday to Friday. Four of us started at the same time and another four started a month later. This meant that the shop, which employed between 30 and 40 people, had seven (one participant got a job elsewhere) people working the contracted hours of 15 fully paid workers but receiving nothing from the employer!
Numerous members of staff asked if we were part of the A4e programme which was recently shown to be nothing more than a money-making scam for the shareholders of the company. This indicates that the use of people forced onto benefits due to a lack of jobs is commonplace at the store I worked at.
Although the placement was supposed to be about gaining ‘experience’, within three or four weeks I was fully trained in pretty much all aspects of the work. After a month I and my fellow work experience colleagues were used as nothing but unpaid workers – not shadowing anyone but given the same responsibilities as members of staff.
I was also asked to a do a ‘stock take’ while at the store but this was scheduled for a Sunday. This was technically illegal as we had been told that we weren’t permitted to work weekends or bank holidays. Bur we all realised that to challenge this probably would have resulted in us not getting work at the end of the placement.
The most galling thing about my time on work experience was that after the first week the store manager said that she would look at putting us on the payroll after we were till-trained. Well, by the end of the third week I was fully till-trained yet still I heard nothing about being kept on.
At the end of my eight weeks I was told that I wasn’t getting the job. As annoying as this is, it was made worse by the fact that, as a result of the placement, I missed training opportunities that would have given me a much higher chance of gaining employment.
These schemes are used, not to give training or experience, but to undercut those who are in paid employment using unpaid ‘volunteers’. Because of this it is vital that the trade union movement, especially those that organise in retail and fast food, take up the issue of workfare and also of youth unemployment – which is now over one million.
A coordinated trade union fightback which includes moves towards unionising un-unionised workplaces could see workfare fully defeated and be a huge blow to the Con-Dems and their pro-big business agenda. Youth Fight for Jobs is campaigning across the country against workfare and for genuine job creation as young people say: we won’t be a lost generation!”
“My Workfare Nightmare” – a post by ‘Unemployed from Hull’ from Youth Fight For Jobs
Make your voice heard during the Workfare Week of Action 6-14th July.