It is unclear whether Sainsburys have genuinely pulled out of their Workfare schemes as reported in the Guardian, however the fact they are claiming to have done so is revealing. Superdrug have also Tweeted they no longer use Workfare, a somewhat spurious claim which was questioned when campaign group Boycott Workfare pointed out an advertisement for a Workfare position with the company.
Now the Unions have stepped into the fray, with shop workers union Usdaw calling on retailers to pull out of the scheme, in which unemployed people are forced to work 30 hours a week with no pay or workplace rights. The TUC leader Brendan Barber says in the Guardian this weekend that workfare is ‘exploiting participants’ and has joined the calls for companies to pull out. Hopefully this call also extends to Post Office union the CWU, who have recently endorsed a workfare scheme at the Royal Mail.
CWU secretray Billy Hayes has remained silent on this subject despite being asked about it repeatedly on twitter. Keep asking him at: https://twitter.com/#!/BillyHayes_CWU
Like the CWU, Tesco are unrepentant about their use of forced labour. 1,400 people have worked for free at the supermarket for no pay. Tesco say that they have employed 300 job seekers in the same period, less than 25% of participants. There is no indication whether Tesco have employed more claimants than they would have done anyway without the scheme, but it is quite likely they have employed less. Why pay benefit claimants when you can get them to work for free?
They may well change their minds about the benefits of using unpaid workers however as resistance to the scheme is not just spreading in the Unions and the High Street. Last week a successful picket was held outside Poundland in Brighton aimed at the stores use of free labour. Today a similar picket is to be held down the road in Worthing at another Poundland.
Action against workfare is planned in both Liverpool and London (so far) on March 3rd, and a Boycott Workfare group also are becoming established in Birmingham, where a legal challenge against the scheme is also taking place. Workfare participants are becoming increasingly savvy and aware of what little rights and power they have. The danger’s of having an unpaid work-force who are openly hostile to their pretend employers should be obvious to all companies. Unlike the sharks that are used to bully people into workfare, who pay themselves millions of pounds of tax payers money, actually taking on workfare staff may well turn out to be bad business. It could well be this that brings this exploitative scheme to an end as the cost of taking on workfare staff outweigh the benefits. Pickets, protests and direct action will all add to the bill and keep up the pressure. Every little helps.
Also this week – help DPAC deliver a letter to Killer Miller the Minister of Disabled People on Monday 13th February, whilst as the Welfare Reform Bill makes it way back to the Lords a demo/vigil will be held outside Parliament on Tuesday 14th from 1-3pm and possibly Wednesday as well. People will be at gathering in Old Palace Yard, Abingdon St SW1. All welcome.