Monday, 26 March 2012

Unemployed refusing 'voluntary' work experience are now being forced into unpaid 'Mandatory Work Activity'!

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and 'Boycott Workfare', have organised a picket outside the Head office of the CWU in London, to protest about an agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU, to facilitate 'workfare' in the Royal Mail.

The agreement which was signed in January, allows for eighty unemployed people on the 'Work Experience Programme' to undertake four week placements, which Royal Mail and the CWU, "say is entirely voluntary and underpinned by strong Trade Union Principles."

In a 'joint statement' which was sent to CWU branches throughout the country, Royal Mail and the CWU, have stated that participants will receive a 'remuneration package' and on completion of the four week programme, will also have "the opportunity of a job offer in line with agreed criteria that also protects existing fixed term and temporary staff" and that an individual who chooses to leave at any stage, "will not be penalised in any way."

But the agreement has provoked outrage amongst some postal workers and members of the 'Boycott Workfare' campaign, who claim that they have been unable to obtain 'written guarantees' that the Work Experience scheme agreed between Royal Mail and the CWU, is entirely voluntary. Opponents of the scheme, also point out that ministers have stated that "the sanctions regime remains in place", and that anybody turning down, or withdrawing from so-called 'voluntary' work experience, will be transferred to 'Mandatory Work Experience'(MWA), involving four weeks forced unpaid labour, lasting for up to 30 hours per week.

Evidence that jobseekers who refuse so-called 'voluntary' work experience are being forced into compulsory unpaid work placements, is growing by the day. Last week the Guardian reported how it had been contacted by young unemployed jobseekers who claimed that they had been put onto MWA just weeks after claiming Jobseekers Allowance. Others have also claimed that Jobcentres put them onto MWA, after refusing work experience. Referring to guidance given to Jobcentre staff, the Guardian report states that staff have been told:

"A claimant 'dropping out' of an employment measure prematurely may, or may not, indicate a lack of focus and discipline on their part. It is for advisory teams to consider the merits of MWA referral on a case-by-case basis."

Although the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, says that these schemes are not 'slave labour', this will be tested shortly in the courts when two cases are due to be heard in mid-May. At the Royal Courts of Justice, a middle-aged claimant who refused to work six months unpaid under the government's 'Community Action Programme', is arguing that this was a form of forced labour and an "attack on his dignity." In another case, Cait Reilly a 22-year-old graduate from Birmingham, is arguing that being compelled to work unpaid for Poundland stacking shelves under threat of losing her state benefits, was forced labour and breached the Human Rights Act which prohibits forced or compulsory labour. In the meanwhile, protest action aimed at stopping this form of modern-day slavery, is growing daily.

The protest action to demand 'No workfare at Royal Mail' will take place at the CWU HQ, 150 Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1RX, on 2nd April at 11.OO am.

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