Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Another amazing day for the campaign. It’s reported that ministers will hold “crisis talks” with Tesco this week to try and keep them on board what looks increasingly like a sinking ship. Maplin has tweeted that it will join the list of retailers to pull out of the government’s forced unpaid labour schemes.
Oxfam has confirmed to us verbally that it will not accept workfare in any of its forms. This is particularly good news for one person on our Facebook page who was due to start Mandatory Work Activity with them next week! The fact that they already had policy against it highlights how slyly workfare is being pushed by the government and their workfare profiteers, as well as how slowly the third sector more widely has been to respond to this attack on volunteering. The fact that placements are often organised by local shops rather than at a national level is no excuse, and it is great to see Oxfam taking action to make sure all of their stores stick to its policy. We look forward to seeing their public statement.
Boots, Pizza Hut and HMV should take a leaf out of their book. They are all telling people that they do not arrange workfare centrally, and refusing to take responsibility for what happens in their local stores. It’s clear they’re still willing to see people forced to work unpaid in their stores. Keep up the pressure and we reckon we can persuade them otherwise!
The action you are taking is working. Keep telling everyone you know and keep up the pressure on the brands who are still profiting from forced unpaid labour. More tomorrow.
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Not to be outdone by Tesco’s sense of entitlement to profit from forced labour, Argos is also defending its widespread use of workfare, and has issued this shameless response to complaints raised by members of the public:
“We can confirm that Argos does not have a policy to recruit colleagues through the governments Work Experience Programme, but we do make use of it to offer work experience… Christmas is our busiest time of year and we are pleased to provide the opportunity for work experience during this time.”
Not much overtime for Argos employees over Christmas then. Despite increasing calls for Tesco’s to quit workfare and action which shut one of their shops for an hour today, they are still clinging on to the boost that forced unpaid labour gives their profit margins.
Elsewhere, great news that Scope have suspended workfare, let’s keep up the pressure for them to pull out completely. This takes us onto Oxfam. Last year Oxfam informed us:
The Mandatory Work Activity is not compatible with Oxfam’s stance on benefits… In addition to this, there are ‘sanctions’ attached to the scheme which could result in participants having their benefits removed… which would create situations where people were being driven into poverty. This is not compatible with Oxfam’s aims and beliefs.
However, Oxfam’s name has since come up on Freedom of Information requests about workfare. We would suggest that this would be an ideal time for Oxfam to publicly confirm their opposition to workfare given their stated mission to work “with others to overcome poverty and suffering” and to ensure that their stores are sticking to their policy.
Our campaign is just beginning. Workfare could affect everyone in every workplace, everywhere. After all, as Tesco’s shows, if you can get staff for no wages then why hire them?
More and more groups and across the U.K are joining the national day of action. You don’t need loads of people or resources to join them. Even handing out leaflets outside a local store will add up to a massive impact. Get involved and let us know if you’d like to announce an action in your town.
Thanks for stepping up the pressure again. Keep it up!
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The public backlash against workfare, and the organisations who are making millions by forcing people to work unpaid for them, continues to gather momentum.
Matalan has suspended its involvement with workfare pending an internal inquiry. Let’s keep up the pressure for them to suspend their involvement permanently. Tesco’s are claiming they are trying to get the government to change its workfare policy, by getting them to remove the threat of ‘sanctions’, for people who er.. ‘volunteer’ to work in their stores. Wouldn’t it be easier if Tesco’s just paid the people working in its stores? Read our statement on Tesco’s position and contact them to keep up the pressure.
We hope Tesco’s see sense soon, and follow the example of 99p Stores. Citing negative publicity, 99p Store’s are withdrawing from workfare, having not yet taken on a single worker through the scheme.
To all those organisations that we are currently in dialogue with, please, we would urge you to do the right thing, and publicly confirm you will stop using workfare. Forcing people to work for you and not paying wages is wrong. By taking part in workfare you are contaminating your brand and politicising it.
To those companies and organisations who are considering whether to pull out, and to those that plan to carry on regardless and profit from forced unpaid labour, ask yourselves…….can you really afford workfare?
Do the right thing. Boycott exploitation. Boycott workfare.
Our thanks to everyone for their ongoing support of the campaign! Take a look at how you can help here.
Or use this text and this handy list compiled by a supporter to contact the stores which are still involved:
HMV – difficult to find email contact, all by phone – 0845 901 1122 or possibly email@example.com
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Boycott Workfare are happy to announce the following great news:
Firstly; this important statement by Marie Curie who, ‘will not participate in the scheme in the future’.
Secondly; Shelter have publicly reiterated its stance on workfare, stating that it: ’decided that it was in the best interests of both potential volunteers and Shelter not to participate in the programme’
We welcome this excellent news, and thank them both for coming out against workfare, especially given the pressure faced by such organisations to be involved in workfare. This is not a surprise given that the DWP are pushing workfare to:
• Local Authorities and Councils
• Charities and third sector organisations
We already have the examples of Newham council, Medway council, and Homes for Islington forcing people to work for no wages.
In 2010, 800 station staff were made redundant on London Underground. In 2011, 200 workfare placements were rolled out across North London stations to make “people feel much safer”. The need for a uniformed presence remains, the paid employment does not.
Workfare in any workplace, public or private, reduces wages, working conditions, and the number of paid jobs available, as well as massively cutting staff overtime- no one is safe from workfare, not even the most vulnerable.
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There has been huge outcry in response to a job advert from Tescos for a 30 hours a week nightshift UNPAID through the Job Centre Work Experience scheme. This isn’t a one-off. A year ago, Boycott Workfare spoke to someone at the job centre who had just finished seven nights on the trot of forced unpaid work at Tescos.
Tescos tries to defend itself by saying the placements are voluntary. But what is voluntary about having to work 30 hour weeks unpaid or risk losing the meagre £53 a week Jobseekers Allowance that young people have to survive on?
Tescos says it has recently employed 300 people through the scheme. But even in last August, they had taken on 3000 placements. On a conservative estimate they may now have doubled this figure. This would be less than 5% of workfare workers given paid employment.
Once people are on these schemes have very little recourse to challenge bad treatment, and managers take advantage:
- One woman was made to work without protective clothing in the chilled and freezer section in Tescos
- Another store took on twelve people to cover the busy Christmas period but offered not a single job
- Other people placed in supermarkets report being forced to work the worst hours, paid staff being sent home and childcare needs being ignored
Last week Sainsbury’s withdrew from the scheme after public pressure. Following today’s public outcry, TK Maxx has also stepped back! Help us step up the pressure on Tescos and other stores accepting workfare!
- Use this handy webpage to Tweet at the brands still taking workfare
- Email Tescos CEO (Ceo.Customerservice@uk.tesco.com) and other CEOs (some workfare companies can be found on this list) with your thoughts on their exploitative practices. If you don’t have time to draft your own letter, feel free to use this text.
- Take part in the National Day of Action on 3rd March. Which stores on your high street will you visit?
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The government has another great workfare idea: Make everyone who has been on the Work Programme do six whole months of full-time forced unpaid labour. It introduced a pilot scheme for this idea, the bizarrely named “Community Action Programme”, which is being implemented by profit-making “Welfare to Work” companies. We hear from one unlucky person about the shambles that was the first day of their six month stint.
After being informed that I had won the “lottery” so to speak, I was duly summoned to attend a Community Action Programme “Welcome meeting” on this fine February morning. Determined not to be too sullen despite having been previously shall we say, a little under impressed by the so called assistance received through A4e 6 months prior, I tried to open my mind to the possibilities that may be offered by Pinnacle People, and knowing that I have little choice but to attend or lose my benefits, off I went.
I had been informed by letter that this session would take approximately 3hrs! So having parked and paid for a day’s parking, I made my way to their plush offices and after being greeted and offered a beverage, we sat waiting for others to arrive. Of the 14 booked in 3 of us were there at the allotted time 4 others drifted in over the following 20mins! Good start! In front of each of us was placed a brochure outlining what was to befall us, maybe a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy would of been more apt but hey ho, also each of us were given a copy of a default Action Plan with spaces allocated to be filled in/edited after each session. (May I point out that this document requests signatures and dates of birth, so those like me concerned with Data Protection, TAKE NOTE!)
After listening to the program outline, it was soon apparent that yet AGAIN, I and the other unfortunates who have been conscripted into yet another debacle will once more be wasting our time and Government money to line the pockets of another bunch of… No, I won’t do myself the injustice of just swearing for the next hour, but I will point out a couple of points that really guile me!
During our meeting the young man pointed out to us that… “though I do not know any of you, it’s important for you to undertake this programme as those that have been unemployed for a long time fall into bad habits and this will stop those that sleep in all morning and spend the day watching Jeremy Kyle from continuing living like this, not that I am saying any of you do that…” Nice touch!
He continued to state that “…it was not the company’s fault that we were there but the Government and as such, if we felt that this was not for us, don’t take it out on them, go see the people at the job centre, but you will be unlikely to get anywhere… the only way to get of this programme is to get a job or sign off”. One could expect that I suppose?! But it’s hardly the way to instil trust and encourage those forced to take part to see some kind of benefit in the whole procedure (the benefit bit wasn’t a pun!). Having made it crystal clear that any non compliance or a failure to “take part” in ANY activity they deemed suitable would be seen as a failure on OUR part and as such may constitute a breach in our agreement, we were told that THEY did not have the power to issue sanctions on our benefit, so it was pointless coming to them and complaining. HOWEVER it was their duty to inform the Benefits office if they felt that an individual was disruptive or was reluctant to comply with their requests!
At this point we were directed to SIGN the documents in front of us which contained the Consent to Share Information… I declined… At that point the young man loudly asked why I refused to sign. So, politely I told him at this time I was “unhappy” to sign such a document as it was a non mandatory requirement, he then made a point of telling me (and those sat watching) THREE times that he would have to report this… So I guess my Black Ball is on its way!!!
The best bit is yet to come… I am still struggling to actually believe my own ears on this, but BELIEVE IT OR NOT during our meeting (of 40mins NOT 3HRS so there goes £3.70 on parking!) We were actually told that in our Area the person whose job it is to secure placements is struggling, that the opportunities have dried up, that… “IF WE COULD HELP THEM BY LETTING THEM KNOW OF ANY COMPANY THAT COULD TAKE US ON, THEY WOULD BE MOST APPRECIATIVE” ARE YOU BL**DY KIDDING ME!!!!!!!!!!!
The second document (Action Plan) which they were so adamant we sign, stated clearly that within the next 7 days we would commence our work placement… We were then told our nextmeeting would be in 14 days!?!?!? What?? How?? But we don’t have a placement to go on!!! Yeah… I didn’t sign that one either, oops!
Please, Please, Please somebody, anybody, anybody with any sense that is, surely somebody can see what a farce this all is and do something about it.
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HMV have today tweeted at us that “@boycottworkfare HMV is NOT & will not be participating in the #workfare scheme. We’re not aware of who the quoted mgr is but this is untrue”
We can however, publish a testimony of someone sent on the DWP Work Experience scheme at an HMV store – along with two others. This person was wise enough to leave her unpaid work placement after the first day. If she had stayed to the end of the week, under DWP rules she would have had her benefits stopped for doing so and been trapped into the placement for eight weeks.
This testimony shows that HMV was taking DWP Work Experience before Christmas. If they can show that they are no longer doing so, we will happily remove them from the list. But since they’re denying it happened in the first place, that makes things more difficult.
Why not help them out? Pop into your local HMV and ask staff if there are or have been any job centre Work Experience placements there. Then let us know what you find out.
Read this person’s testimony:
I have been claiming since August and when it got to October time my adviser started pushing me towards work placements for me to gain some experience. I really want to get into admin as I only have retail experience but she offered me a place at HMV over Christmas. I felt pressured into saying yes even though I have previously worked a) in a record shop and b) as a sales adviser. I was told I would be working in the stock room and wouldn’t have to be face to face with customers.
When I went for my introduction at HMV I was with two other work placements from JSA, both were boys and I am a girl. The person interviewing us stated that they had asked for “one too many” placements and since I was the female I was to go work on the shop floor rather than in the stock room. Come to my first day, and I spent six hours wandering around the shop floor without any purpose other than “ask the customers if they are okay”. I was not told when I was going to finish and given a plain blue t-shirt to wear rather than a HMV t-shirt. I got talking to a boy who was working as Christmas staff and he explained that the blue t-shirts were for people working who were not “accepted” as part of the team. Both me and the two other JSA placements had blue t-shirts. This member of staff also informed me that he was going to make close to £2000 for working the Christmas period where as I was just receiving my normal benefits of £212 a month, he said he wouldn’t be working such a high-stress retail job over Christmas for no pay and I must say I agree with him!
The original hours were 30 a week but many staff members informed me that HMV put pressure on them to work much longer hours and start earlier than their shifts. We were told outright that we were not going to be taken on as staff at the end of the period because the company was going bankrupt and at the end of the day I walked out of the shop and didn’t go back! Luckily my advisor was sympathetic to me since I was doing a job I had not been put through to do and my benefits were paid as normal. It still didn’t stop me feeling like a failure for only completing one day before getting fed up and leaving. I felt like people would see me as just another “scrounger” for not being grateful for the opportunity, but I definitely feel more validated in my choice of not continuing with the placement now.
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In another promising victory for public pressure, Sainsbury’s has joined Waterstones in withdrawing from the government “Work Experience” scheme, which forces people to work unpaid for 30 hours a week for 8 weeks or lose their benefits.
Sainsbury’s has said it will now only participate in the work trial scheme which is “entirely voluntary” and where ”candidates did not lose their benefits if they didn’t participate”. Let’s hold them to it: if you know anyone mandated to work without pay on any government scheme (Mandatory Work Activity, the Work Programme, Community Action Programme or anything else), let us know!
This is a really important precedent. Big companies can afford to pay a wage. They should not be getting a forced unpaid workforce. If there is work to be done, those doing it should be paid a living wage.
We now know that we can stop forced unpaid work placements by publicly exposing those profiting from workfare. On Saturday 3rd March, people in Liverpool and London are taking to the high street to up the pressure on brands who still think these schemes are acceptable. Why not organise something on your high street too? Let us know if you are!
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In solidarity with Liverpool Uncut’s action against workfare on Saturday 3rd March, Boycott Workfare has called a national day of action against workfare. There’s already actions planned in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Leeds, Sheffield and Tunbridge Wells (with Glasgow, Lincoln, Notts and others planning!). Why not visit your high street as well?
So many high street stores are involved in taking on forced unpaid labour that there is plenty of choice – Tescos, Asda, Holland & Barrett, Primark, HMV, and Topshop to name but a few. Get a group together, make a plan, and head to the streets.
Workfare means that those who need welfare are forced into unpaid work for multi-million pound companies. Instead of a living wage, they receive only JSA – a tiny £53 a week for the under-25s – far below minimum wage.
Workfare means those in paid positions may see their jobs replaced by this unpaid labour. Why would a company pay for people to do these jobs when they can get free labour from the Job Centre?
We can put a stop to this forced unpaid labour – Waterstones, Sainsburys and TK Maxx have all recently announced that they would no longer take unpaid placements – the other companies just need a bit more encouragement to stop this exploitation.
We demand an end to this exploitation and call for welfare rights and living wages for all!
If you continue to exploit us we WILL shut you down!
Details of actions:
- Birmingham – 11.30am outside Poundland on Union Street. Facebook event.
- Brighton - Brighton Benefits Campaign are picketing Tesco in Jubilee Street (opposite Jubilee Square) from 12 noon. See Facebook event. Brighton Youth Fight for Jobs & Education are picketing Tesco in St James’s Street Kemp Town from 11.30am.See Facebook event.
- Bristol – 12 noon at College Green. More info.
- Cardiff - 2pm Outside Poundland on Queen Street. See Facebook event.
- Leeds - See Facebook event. And join the Tesco demo on Monday 20th Feb.
- Liverpool – Take action with UK Uncut, 1pm until 4pm. Meet Next to Nowhere Social Centre, Bold Street, Liverpool. More info
- London, Oxford Street – Meet outside BHS on Oxford Street, 11:30am. More info and download a leaflet.
- London, Hackney – See Facebook event.
- Newcastle – 12pm outside Eldon Square. See Facebook event.
- Sheffield – Meet Devonshire Green, Sheffield, 1pm. We will meet at 1pm and decide on a target. See Facebook event.
- Tunbridge Wells – Meet at the Millennium clock in Tunbridge Wells at 12 noon.Meet at the Millennium clock in Tunbridge Wells at 12 noon
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Following the news that Waterstones have stopped delivering government workfare schemes, Boycott Workfare has been keeping up the pressure on other shops to do the same.
It looked for a moment as though Sainsbury’s might have followed Waterstones example when they started telling their customers on Twitter:
“We don’t have any arrangements in place with the government in relation to their work programmes”.
Sainsbury’s sent this message out to several of their customers who had asked about their use of workfare. This understandably led people to believe that Sainsbury’s were no longer involved.
However, when Boycott Workfare questioned them further about this Sainsbury’s admitted that some of their stores have made arrangements with Jobcentre Plus to provide unpaid workfare placements. We know that Sainsbury’s have previously provided workfare placements for private providers such as A4E. We asked if Sainsbury’s still have any arrangements with private providers but they chose not to answer.
Last year Sainsbury’s made profits of £665 million. Their boss Justin King earned £3.2 million. The young people working for their benefits in Sainsbury’s get £1.78 an hour. Sainsbury’s pay them nothing. Rather than trying to mislead their customers, Sainsbury’s should follow Waterstones example and abandon the use of forced, unpaid labour.
Superdrug have also been caught out. They told one of their customers on Twitter that “Superdrug do not use workfare labour”. When Boycott Workfare pointed out to them a recent advertisement for an unpaid workfare position at Superdrug, they chose not to respond.
Update on 11th February: we kept up the pressure and Sainsbury’s stopped taking workfare!