Thursday, 23 February 2012

Government work-for-your-dole scheme in disarray. More firms pull out!

It really is hilarious watching the beleaguered government employment minister, Chris Grayling, jump about like a blue arsed flea, trying to defend the indefensible. While firms pull out of a work-for-your-dole scheme out of fear that they may be accused of using slave labour and of exploiting the unemployed, he accuses critics of his so-called work experience scheme, of being 'job snobs', 'modern-day Luddites' and 'anti-capitalist extremists'.

As the government's work-for-your-dole scheme falls apart at the seam with firms like Argos, Superdrug, Sainsbury`s and Matalan, announcing that they want nothing more to do with a scheme that compels unemployed youngsters into forced labour, government ministers are trying frantically to shore up the scheme with the help of Tory hack journalists in the right-wing press and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, telling us: "This is not slave labour, it's not compulsory."

Part of the problem for the government, is that they say one thing in public and do quite the opposite in private. The so-called 'work experience' scheme aimed at 18-24 year olds, is only one of a number of different government schemes that are being foisted on the unemployed. Although the scheme allows the unemployed a one week trial period, giving them the option of leaving a placement early if they're dissatisfied without losing their benefits, some Jobcentres appear to have been telling the unemployed that the scheme is mandatory and that they will lose their benefits if they fail to take up the placement. One dissatisfied 'customer' Cait Reilly (22), is now suing the government under the Human Rights Acts, which prohibits forced or compulsory labour.

Though Nick Clegg, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, professes to believe in the liberty of the subject and doesn't like slave labour, one of his government's schemes for the unemployed, is called 'Mandatory Work Activity'(MWA). With MWA the government also seems to have got itself into a pickle. At times it seems as though their left hand doesn't know what their right hand is doing.

Until recently the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), were insisting that while 'voluntary' work experience took place in high street stores, MWA placements were always of 'community benefit'. In the 'Sunday Telegraph' Grayling wrote:

"Where we use mandation in our policies, it will be useful work on community projects. We will never mandate anyone to work for a big company. They wouldn't take it if we did."

An official tweet from the DWP also stated: "The DWP only mandates people for community work # Workfare." But when the private company 'Seetec', who have been awarded two government contracts to run MWA in London and the East of England, told the Guardian that 'community benefit' also covered work for private companies, the DWP did a volte-face and confirmed that private companies could be included in the definition of work for 'community benefit'. What a shambles!

Now Tesco's decision to offer 1500 unemployed youngsters who sign-off, a 4 week paid placement of around £175 for a 25 hour week and the guarantee of a job if they prove satisfactory, looks likely to undermine the government's work-for-your-dole scheme even further and will make unemployed youngsters even more reluctant to work for nothing which many say, makes them feel insulted and demeaned. The Tory MP, Harriet Baldwin, seemed flummoxed when BBC2 Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman, repeatedly asked her during a recent interview: "Do you understand why people find these schemes offensive?"

Though Chris Grayling insists that his work-for-your-dole scheme is not slave labour and has been 'over subscribed', and tells us that half of people going through the scheme, come off benefits very quickly or find jobs with the company that they had work experience with, the DWP is nevertheless keeping schtum, about where these mainly young people end up who pass through the scheme.

According to recent reports, A4e - who have been awarded government contracts to run the 'Work Programme' when the company is being investigated by the police for alleged fraud - sent A4e jobseekers to work in two of its own offices without pay, which some people believe, presents a conflict of interest. Nor does there seem to be any real training on offer.

After being unemployed for 18 months, Alison aged 25 (not her real name), was referred to the Work Programme in Leicester. She told the Guardian newspaper that after her intial signing-on session with A4e (who received a £400 fee), she heard nothing for three months. A course in "interview skills and structured job searching" was then arranged for her which entailed: "attendees being herded into a computer room and told to search for five jobs. The adviser then left the room and we were unsupervised for the remainder of our time there."

Though work-for-your-dole schemes were introduced by the former Work & Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, under the last Labour government, there has been barely a squeak of opposition from British trade unions to this form of modern day slavery which provides a pool of taxpayer-subsidised free labour to many British companies that does have the potential, to undercut the jobs and wages of existing employees. The same criticism might equally be levelled at many political groups on the British left, who until recently, have held aloof from what is one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights involving the exploitation of the unemployed in recent years.

It is hardly surprising that out of 27 EU countries, only Estonia has a higher level of poverty among the unemployed than this country. This is because unemployment benefits paid in this country, are among the lowest in Europe. Over the last 40 years, unemployment benefit has been cut by 50% as a proportion of average earnings, to just 10%. Needless to say, experience and training can be invaluable to getting a job, but much of this welfare-to-work provision is simply about getting people to sign-off the dole or take-up unpaid placements and low paid jobs,or to harass people, into chasing work that simply doesn't exist.

Public opinion can be very fickle and is likely to be influenced by the latest headlines. Anxious that they might be losing the argument, the government have wheeled out the former boss of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose, who has called on firms to show some backbone and to stand up to the so-called 'anti-capitalist extremists' who are trying to undermine the government's work-for-your-dole scheme. To bolster their argument that shelf stacking in a supermarket is good for you, we've been told how Sir Stuart, over forty years ago, started his working life as a shelf-stacker and floor sweeper and how the former Tesco CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, also stacked shelves and washed floors. However, what they have omitted tells us, and this is the crucial difference, is that both of these individuals, got paid for working and weren't forced into it, by threats of having their benefits stopped.

No comments: