The government is desperately trying to 'shore up support' for its work-for-your- dole scheme which according to the latest figures available, has seen some 34,000 unemployed people taking part in forced labour during January and November last year. It is not known how many of these have obtained jobs since taking part.
Under the guise of 'work experience', the unemployed are now being forced to work (unpaid)by government Jobcentres in placements for up to 30 hours per week, for up to 8 weeks. The companies benefiting from this taxpayer-subsidised labour include many major UK stores who are under no obligation to offer employment to an unemployed person.
Although the government recently announced that it was extending the scheme to more than 100,000 unpaid placement a year, some companies responding to adverse criticism about the legality of the 'work experience' scheme and allegations of 'forced labour', have decided to withdraw from the scheme. On Saturday, it was reported in The Guardian that 'Waterstones', 'Sainbury's and 'TK Maxx' had all pulled out and that "other major high street chains are reconsidering their involvement'. According to a report in the Daily Mail, the charities 'Oxfam' and 'Shelter' have also pulled out as well as the clothing retailer 'Matalan'.
Tesco who are participating in the scheme, were said to have "felt uncomfortable" about their involvement in a scheme which was seen as compulsory and have asked Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) officials to make the scheme voluntary after;
"thousands of angry customers wrote in and posted messages on Twitter and the company's Facebook site accusing the company of profiting from hundreds of thousands of hours of forced unpaid labour."
It was reported that the retail giant has become 'increasingly jittery' after its Westminster branch was forced to close by protesters after it advertised for "workers in exchange for expenses and Jobseekers' Allowance." The company who made £3.8 bn in profits last year, said they wanted the "scheme to be free from any sort of sanction."
Officials for the DWP, said that reports that firms were thinking of withdrawing from the scheme, was 'overheated nonsense'. Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, described critics of the scheme as 'job snobs' and added that the DWP would do all it could to "assuage Tesco's concern" but that it was too early, to say whether the threat of losing benefits would be removed.
Jim Duffy from Public Interest Lawyers in Birmingham, who are suing the government under the Human Rights Act, said he welcomed Tesco's move but called for the government to scrap the schemes and replace it with "individualised tailored approaches" which get people into work and keep them there.
Though this form of modern day slavery (work-for-your-dole), was introduced by the former Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, under the last Labour government, Labour employment spokesman, Stephen Timms, said: "The scheme had lost confidence of both young people and business."