LAST WEEK’S WEEK of Action against Workfare saw 11 demos around the country, and got off to a positively super start, as Superdrug announced their withdrawal from the scheme (get it? “Super”? As in “Super”drug? No? Ahh, forget it). Okay, it was on the Friday, not the beginning of the week, you pedant, but they pulled out all the same.
But as a reminder, what is Workfare? From the B.A.R.F. leaflet: “Unemployed people being forced to work for free for up to six months with no guarantee of a job afterwards, many of them for major high street companies, such as British Heart Foundation, Debenhams, Poundland, Superdrug, Tesco, W.H.S. Smiths, and more.” So, yeah, modern slavery, but without the obligation to keep the slaves healthy, because this time there’s more than enough of us.
At the beginning of the week, the Employment Related Services Association (E.R.S.A.) put out a ‘myth buster’ in defence of Workfare – conveniently made up of mythology itself. The E.R.S.A. is the trade body for welfare-to-work companies like A.4e and J.H.P. Employability. Though they claim that the scheme is only used in limited ways, 163,000 people were on “Government training and employment support programs” in February 2013 – over 10% of J.S.A claimants – most of which were Work Experience Placements. They think that Work Programme providers wouldn’t force people to do something that won’t help them get work, because they won’t get paid if they don’t help find someone a job; which is a logical perspective if you have no basis in reality. They also allege that mandation is used only in a minority of circumstances and must benefit to the local community, ignoring how claimants are pressured into placements, or not properly informed about their mandatory nature, and how the so-called “benefit to the local community” often includes cleaning private homes. And one of their most naïve claims: placements organised via the Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity programme are unpaid precisely so they do not displace paid workers. But it is patently obvious that access to a ready supply of unpaid workers does replace paid jobs and undermine wages, and the companies know it too: Asda reduces overtime hours for staff; Argos replaced its Christmas temps with Workfare staff; J.H.P. Employability cuntishly even advertised workfare as “free temporary staff for up to four weeks” on their site. It’s uncertain to what extent this impact is, as the govermint refuses to actually carry out any trials. The E.R.S.A. also claim the public don’t object to workfare, in the face of growing opposition, and to prove it they hark back to a March 2011 poll done for thinktank Policy Exchange – long before workfare hit the headlines.
Another factoid to consider in all this: incidence and severity of assaults on JCP staff are apparently on the up, with frustration and confusion about sanctions are cited as the cause.
On Tuesday, attention was turned to the Salvation Army, whose U.K. H.Q. was paid a surprise visit. Nevertheless, the media-savvy Sally’s showed how they’re happy to act as Iain Duncan Smith’s Workfare foot soldiers, as their heavy-handed response to a peaceful protest left one person temporarily arrested after being falsely accused of assault, until police realised they’d been lied to. Never content to just stop there, when questioned about how they “can morally take sick and disabled people and force them to work?”, the charity replied that they believe in “emancipation through employment” – just like at Auschwitz. Should you wish to let them know exactly you think about their use of forced labour, ring them on 02073 674500 (or e-mail them at: email@example.com) – and please spare a thought for their witless P.R. officer who is probably even now just entering the dole queue. ‘Arbeit macht frei’, indeed.
But the real shit in ya slippers was Duncan Sith’s Workfare bill getting itself enacted in Parliament. Aside from a few votes against, Miliband’s goons put the ‘Slave’ back into Labour as their abstention slipped the law through with ease. Not only did politicians enable a retroactive law to be enacted, they also deprived 225,000 people of justice, effectively robbing £130 million in welfare payments people were lawfully due. Neo-nazi I.D.S. (who has grown fat off benefits via his unemployed albeit rich, wife, four child benefit-enriched children and his own periods of dole claims) had this particular wet dream extraordinarily rushed through, with the Second Reading, Committee Stage and Third Reading all being scheduled for the same day. Which is nice. This spate of legal time travel now means that the govermint has ‘always complied’ with the court ruling, even though for two years it did not. Slavery is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, and Orwellian fiction becomes fact.
But then again, if Babyface Smith didn’t get his way, “If the Department cannot make these retrospective changes, then further reductions in benefits might be required in order to find the money to repay the sanctions.” Otherwise known as: “Fuck you, plebs!”
Wednesday seemed a bit of a quiet one, but saw Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group leafleting outside the local Job Centre, in solidarity with the day’s strike by the P.C.S. union.
One highlight of the week, for what it’s worth, is on the Thursday when the govermint was forced to admit that jobcentres have been setting targets to sanction claimants, despite assurances by employment minister Mark Hoban in Parliament that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. According to a leaked e-mail, staff in Walthamstow were threatened with disciplinary action for being 95th out of 109 on the league tables, only punishing six of their 300 claimants a week, when they should be setting up 25 innocents for sanctions (the keywords staff were on the lookout for were: “Do not accept the same job search every week, do not accept ‘I dropped off C.V. to shops like Asda or Sainsbury’s’, listen for telltale phrases ‘I pick up the kids’, ‘I look after my neighbours children/my grandchildren’ or just ‘I am busy’”). Bearing in mind that such a league table could only have been compiled based on data supplied by senior management; makes you wonder what the top prize is? The D.W.P. is of course trying to blame this faux pas on a couple of middle management bad eggs, rather than admit a general culture of top-down institutional hatred for ordinary people; surprise surprise, but why be so naïve as to expect that honesty is the name of the game? So all we’ll get out of it is a bullshit inquiry distraction before they start screwing us harder, but at least they were caught lying.
On the Friday, seven activists from the Black And Red Federation held a modest afternoon demo to greet the new Poundland on Westgate Street. Despite the focus of the High Court judgement (where Cait Reilly – the Geology Graduate forced to give up voluntary work in a museum to work for nothing at Poundland – whose successful challenge led to the ruling declaring Workfare regulations unlawful), Poundland are still at it. Poundland have 30-hour ‘Work Experience’ placements across 71 of their stores, though allegedly not in Bath. 80% of placements do not even get offered any kind of job there; considering how Poundland’s profits rose by 27% to £40 million in the last financial year, they can probably afford to hand out a bit of wage. Though they claim that their scheme is completely voluntary, it does involve Job Centre Plus, so the threat of benefit cuts are still on the cards for those who refuse. The degree to which the scheme is genuinely voluntary is disputed though, as there are countless reports of lies and intimidation to force Jobseekers’ participation, and after one week the scheme becomes mandatory. Not only are placementees getting an effective £2 or so an hour (do we not have a minimum wage in this country anymore?), the scheme is also a direct attack on Poundland’s other workers – replacing paid jobs, holiday pay & ending temporary posts for students and others who rely on this type of work. Boycott Workfare have received various complaints from Poundland staff who have had their hours cut, because of the Workfare job destruction scheme.
The demo was met by overwhelming support from the passersby (at least those who have heard of Workfare, which is surprisingly few), with such classics as the posh elderly former Tory (“Well, the government are just a bunch of cunts aren’t they? Pardon my language”), the Tory-hating U.K.I.P.-enthusiast, and Red Army Faction tattoo guy coyly suggesting a much-needed bombing campaign – perhaps we’ve been aiming a bit low with our action? Well, maybe they will, once they work our way through the bag of donuts they got donated. Protests like these do add up; until Poundland gives in, help us in fighting this attack on all workers’ terms and conditions – Donut Shop At Poundland.
Feedback form: http://www.poundland.co.uk/enquiry/customer-enquiry/
Press centre: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Executive (Warburg Pincus – their U.S.-based private equity fund owners): email@example.com
Then on the Saturday, B.A.R.F.ers joined 50 or so Bristol Afed, Solfeders, Wobs and Socialist Partygoers and fiends for a rolling picket throughout Bristol centre, meeting at Castle Park at 2p.m., and chaosing its way through Cabot Circus for Dorothy Perkins, then Poundland (where a worker bizarrely knifed the banner and stole a demonstrator’s camera), then Debenhams, then McDonalds and then into the Galleries for Greggs, where protesters were handed another donation of donuts, from an amused competitor (notice a pattern?). The day finished up inside the Marriot Hotel, just before everyone froze to death. Saturday also saw action in Kirkgate, Scotland;
So, who has pulled out of the sinking ship we call ‘Workfare’? Well, we have Holland and Barrett, the Red Cross, Capability Scotland, Sue Ryder, Scope, Superdrug, P.D.S.A. and Cancer Research, just off the top of my head. The Children’s Society has also pledged not to use Workfare. Already before the latest withdrawals, the govermint complained how “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.” British Heart Foundation, for its part, are also now “moving away”, whatever that means; recently they declared they had withdrawn from the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, but are still openly declaring on their website that they are participating in the Work Programme – despite the fact that, in December, the scheme was extended to give providers the power to force many sick and disabled claimants on Employment and Support Allowance to work for nothing, or face sanctions. Nah, bollocks, B.H.F.’re still fair game! Contact them via phone (retail H.Q. tel: 01372 477300; head office tel: 02075 540000; customer service centre – 03003 303322) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also fair game is the Y.M.C.A., who recently made a statement defending their use of forced unpaid workers, ignoring the fact they are responsible for pushing people into destitution and possible homelessness, through sanctions which can last up to three years. Uselessly, their president Bishop John Sentamu has spoken out against workfare in the past. They can be rung on 02071 869500 or their shops’ hotline: 08456 010728, and e-mailed on email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, tweeted at @ymcaint and then Facebooked at www.facebook.com/ymcas. But remember whilst it’s well worth trying to speak to a manager if possible, bear in mind most people taking calls/e-mails will be low paid retail or admin and could even be on Workfare themselves.
For the number-crunchers out there, one in five people sent on Mandatory Work Activity in charity shops face benefit stoppages of three or six months. Alongside B.H.F. and Y.M.C.A., charities like the R.S.P.C.A. (head office tel: 03001 230100), the Papworth Trust (e-mail: email@example.com; utilising disabled labour) and T.C.V. (The Conservation ‘Volunteers’, formerly B.C.T.V.; head office tel: 01302 388883, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.btcv.org.uk/volunteer/index.html) are still involved – with the latter previously boasted of using 20,000 unpaid workers on various govermint schemes since the ’80s, and their current lucrative D.W.P. contracts have forced at least 589 people into unpaid work.
Miscellaneous Rogues Gallery
From Boycott Workfare:
- Asda has been at the heart of workfare in the UK, helping the government relaunch its “Work Experience” scheme last year. We have had reports that one of their stores in Manchester uses disabled people on workfare on the night shift.
- A.4e is one of the biggest beneficiaries of govermint welfare policy – in 2011 the company turnover was £180 million, 100% of which came from public coffers. Out of this the bosses shared out £11 million between them. A4e utterly fail to meet even the paltry minimum targets set by the D.W.P. for finding people jobs on the Work Programme. Not content with just this scam, aided and abetted by their friends in government, there are numerous accusations of fraud against them, where records are apparently falsified, so that they can claim even more public money for not doing their job. They are further subsidised by the public by their use of mandatory unpaid labour within the company as well.
customer services: email@example.com; freephone tel: 0800 345666
head of communications: firstname.lastname@example.org
media relations manager: email@example.com
head office fax number: 0114 275 4632; send free faxes via: www.freepopfax.com; many classic books are available as free P.D.F.s online – perhaps A4e would like to read them?
website complaints form: mya4e.com/contact-us/complaints-form
Also, why not send a secure e-mail via: www.hushmail.com
- Argos appears to be using six week placements from the Job Centre on a massive scale. Multiple reports of Argos using workfare placements so that paid staff hours are being reduced, and fewer Christmas temps employed have emerged.
business e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
corporate irresponsibility (H.R.G.): email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
media relations (H.R.G.): email@example.com
managing director: firstname.lastname@example.org
head office tel: 01908 690333
customer Services tel: 01785 710253
- Debenhams has 165 stores across the U.K. and Ireland, and a turnover of £2.2 billion. They too have been taking advantage of wageless, rightless workers supplied by the D.W.P. at the taxpayers’ expense. They’re very keen to insist that the scheme they’re involved in is voluntary, but D.W.P. rules say if you don’t get take part you’re referred to a scheme which carries 3 year sanctions. So it’s only voluntary if you say ‘yes’.
press office: email@example.com
customer services: firstname.lastname@example.org
company secretary (Paul Eardley): email@example.com
- Tesco has committed to 3000 workfare placements, and so far 80% of the 1,500 people who have gone through their stores have not been given a job. Tesco’s profits last year were £1.7 billion. 1,500 eight- week, thirty hour placements would mean the company has so far profited from 360,000 hours of free labour on the schemes.
head office e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 08457 225533; Tesco Direct: 08456 004411
customer service e-mail: email@example.com
Phil Clarke, current C.E.O.: firstname.lastname@example.org