It’s not only multinationals that are benefiting from the free labour supplied by the government’s ever-expanding workfare programme. Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Boycott Workfare campaign shows that charities across the UK, including Barnardo’s, the British Heart Foundation, Age Concern, Cancer Research and Scope, are all accepting unemployed people sent by job centres and private providers for unpaid work placements in their shops.
And if the experience of claimants sent to a Barnardo’s shop in Leeds is anything to go by, working for free in a charity shop is not necessarily much better than stacking shelves at Tesco.
Sheryl Odlum, who has volunteered in the shop for the last year, told Corporate Watch that claimants sent to workfare placements arrive expecting retail experience but are often not even working on the shop floor. “They could be in the upstairs room the whole time, sorting or steaming the clothes,” she said. “They’re not allowed to work on the till … If they’re in the shop, they’re just standing there, tidying up the clothes.” Many of the claimants, who have been sent by provider company Best Training, are not there by choice and there is no prospect of paid work at the end of the placement.
Barnardo’s shops are mainly staffed by volunteers, so workfare placements are not replacing paid jobs, as appears to be the case with many companies (see here). But Ms Odlum says that five people who have completed the 13-week placements in her store over the last year worked more hours than the other volunteers and have become valuable assets: “things would be an awful lot more difficult for us if we didn’t have that constant labour.” “They should be paid minimum wage at least.” she said. “They’re doing a full-time job.”
These placements are organised through the government’s Work Programme, for “long-term jobseekers”, who are mostly over 25. Barnardo’s also organise placements for 18-24 year olds through the government’s work experience programme for 18- to 24-year-olds – a different workfare scheme (and the one Nick Clegg was eagerly expanding last month).
The charity told Corporate Watch its placements under this scheme were never more than four weeks long and that it would “certainly not advise young people to complete long-term unpaid work placements.”
But getting older people to steam clothes for 13 weeks is fine! Have you been sent on an unpaid work placement or do you know someone who has? Contact Corporate Watch on 02074260005 or contact[at]corporatewatch.org