Worrying news comes from the fine folk at Boycott Workfare in the form of a letter issued to branches of posties’ union the CWU in which they appear to endorse Workfare at the Royal Mail.
A ‘work experience’ programme is being rolled out which will see around 130 unpaid workers per region. There is no sign that these workers will be offered jobs at the end of the four week period.
The scheme is aimed at young people who will face benefit sanctions if they have “given up or failed to attend a place on a Work Experience without good cause” or have been dismissed for misconduct. No pay is offered for the role and young people will work alongside paid workers for the pittance available to under 25s on Job Seekers Allowance.
That a major union should appear to endorse an unpaid labour scheme in this way is troubling particularly as the TUC have stated that “compulsory workfare schemes are in contradiction to the notion of welfare rights.”
Reports have already been received of workfare candidates at ASDA being forced to work on Christmas and New Year’s Eve for no pay whilst waged workers were sent home. The creation of a two tier workforce, with one group of workers having no employment rights or pay, should not just trouble the consciences of union leaders.
With Royal Mail privatisation on the agenda this year industrial action seems inevitable. Workfare staff may find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced into scabbing or face dismissal without even the safety net of benefits. This is the thin end of the wedge that could ultimately be used to break any strike action by the CWU.
Already workfare staff have been spotted on the London transport network, presumably in an effort to quieten public concern about unstaffed stations due to station staff being laid off. CWU members, who themselves may face redundancy, must resist this assault on working conditions at the Royal Mail. Workfare will doubtlessly be used to justify lay offs, undermine industrial action and in the long term lead to lower pay and poorer working conditions across the Royal Mail.
Young people need and deserve support with beginning a career at the Royal Mail should they choose to do so. However these positions should come with a living wage and full Trade Union rights. Whilst the CWU has said that all Workfare placements will be introduced to the role of the Union in the workplace, this is of cold comfort when even if they join, they will face crippling poverty and immediate dismissal should they fail to cross a picket line.
Boycott Workfare have issued a call out to contact the CWU and challenge the Union’s support for this forced labour scheme. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org whilst the General Secretary Billy Hayes is active on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BillyHayes_CWU