It’s exploitation Retailers,Councils and
Charities get unpaid workers from the DWP’s “Workfare Scheme”

‘It’s exploitation and it’s
repellent’: Retailers, councils and charities benefiting from
workfare

TK Maxx, Wilkinsons, Savers and Matalan have
been named as major retailers where unemployed people are being sent to work
without pay by Jobcentres and employment provider companies. Since our article last month
exposing Tesco, Primark and other multinationals taking unpaid work placements,
various people have contacted Corporate Watch describing their own experiences
of being sent to major retailers, as well as councils and charities, to do
similar work to that of salaried staff while receiving only £67.50 a week in
Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Asked by Corporate Watch how it benefited
from these placements, a spokesperson from Matalan said: “we obviously get
people who want to work and we are always grateful of the extra help, especially
during busy times.” The discount retailer added the placements gave participants
a chance to “try the job out to see if it’s the right career for them,” and that
they gain “a wealth of valuable experience and get a chance to engage with their
community.”
The company promised to get back to us with examples of people
who had moved from the placements to paid work but, at the time of publication,
had not done so. TK Maxx declined to comment, while Savers and Wilkinsons did
not reply to repeated requests for comment.
Matalan, which posted profits of
£73 million in February this year, said it did not know how many people have
participated in its placements across the country as these are managed on a
store-by-store basis. However, in a further sign that the number of placements
will significantly increase under the coalition’s welfare reforms, the company
added it was “hoping to have a national provider such as Retail Works [Seetec]
or Job Centre Plus on board by early next year.”Corporate Watch was also
contacted by people with experience of placements in small businesses, charities
and councils. One claimant described how two unemployed tradespeople were sent
on a placement and “instructed to build a new building”. They estimated the
actual labour cost to be around £3000, yet “they were being told do it for the
same rate as their benefits, with the threat of them stopping if they refused.
Such blatant disregard for the worth of work is rife within the system.”
A
former staff member at Newham Council, who wishes to remain anonymous, described
the reaction of staff when they found out that one of their colleagues was only
receiving benefits for her work:
“I went to [her] leaving do … We were
all so sorry to see her go. She was an older lady and was one of the most
hard-working and genuinely helpful admin staff we’d ever had. Worked her hours
plus more and nothing was ever too much trouble for her. We honestly didn’t know
why she was leaving after only six months. She’d worked a minimum of 37 hours
per week (often more) and been the backbone of service delivery. The basic
starting wage for that level is around £17,000 but for the work she was doing I
would have expected her to be started at a few thousand more. Yet all she was
getting was JSA and the fares for her lengthy bus journeys, while people doing
identical work were getting a salary, paid leave and pension contributions. We
were horrified.

Wrongly, we assumed this woman would be hired back
as proper staff within days. The role was needed, she’d proven herself to be a
fantastic worker, was well regarded and knew the systems. But no, the post was
suddenly deemed no longer required and this lady never came back to us. She did
exactly the same job as paid staff, yet didn’t get the same salary. This is
illegal if the reason is age or race, but perfectly acceptable if someone has
claimed a state benefit. It’s exploitation and it’s repellent.”

Newham
Council has not responded to repeated enquiries from Corporate Watch about its
use of placements.
A former claimant who was sent to a work placement in a
charity under the previous Labour government’s welfare programmes,* described
how, after he had started using a wheelchair, he was referred to a training
course with a charity he was told could lead to a job in broadcast
media:
“On my first day with the charity, I was told that I would have to
wait because the course I was promised a place on was full. Instead, did I know
how to use a computer? I confirmed that I did and was put to work creating
digital versions of all of the charity’s presentational materials. It was
impossible to do this work in the charity’s office, however, because their
computer was ancient and unable to run modern Microsoft programs. So, I offered
to do the work at home on my own computer and print the presentation materials
out on my own colour printer (the charity did not have a working colour printer
either). It took me several weeks to complete this work and cost me a lot more
than £10 per week to print everything out.
Once I had finished this job, I
asked about the media course. I was told that there was still no place available
and they had no more work for me to do. I began to realise that there was no
media course and that I had been exploited. Also, I had only received one
payment of £10 from DWP, not £10 every week [as originally promised]! So, I had
done several hundred pounds worth of work for the princely sum of £10. I was not
reimbursed for any of my home working costs, nor for any of the paper and
acetates I bought to print the new presentation materials on … The gallling
thing about it was that the charity I was working for was one that claimed to
support independent living for disabled people.”

A spokesperson for the
Boycott Workfare campaign, which is encouraging workplaces to pledge not to take people on unpaid
work placements
organised by Jobcentres or subcontracted provider companies,
said:
“Huge companies making billions are profiting from people being
made to work without pay while in fear of losing everything. These companies can
afford to hire and pay staff yet perversely they are increasingly reliant on a
workforce subsidised by taxpayers. Councils are replacing paid positions with
workfare and charities are replacing paid and voluntary vacancies with unpaid
mandatory workers. Workfare as a policy doesn’t make sense in this economic
climate. We want to see a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s
work.”

Have you been sent on an unpaid work placement or
do you know anyone who has? Contact Corporate Watch on 02074260005 or
contact[at]corporatewatch.org

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