Chris Grayling could have laid the workfare row to rest yesterday, but he chose not to. A clear and unambiguous rejection of sanctions across all of the workfare schemes would probably have shut us up. Instead he’s once again attempted to mislead and fib his way out of trouble.
The Government has not ended workfare. They haven’t even come close. As Boycott Workfare tweeted last night: “The government HAVE NOT scrapped #workfare sanctions. They have removed some sanctions from ONE of the FIVE schemes.”
By far the largest workfare scheme, the ‘Work Programme’, can still see claimants forced to work without pay for up to six months. The scheme is shrouded in secrecy and we simply don’t know how many people have been referred to workfare, or even where they ended up. Now apparently censored documents have revealed that Work Programme participants have been forced to work at ASDA, Holiday Inn, Pizza Express, Savers, Barnados, Wilkinson and 99p Stores. They could well still be there as barely anything has changed.
Last night Boots announced they were specifically pulling out of the Work Programme. Poundland have made a similar announcement (although they are still part of the Work Experience scheme). Oxfam have also rejected all workfare schemes. As for Tesco, Argos, McDonalds, ASDA, Burger King, and charities such as SCOPE, Barnados and the Salvation Army, we just don’t know how many of them are currently employing unpaid staff for up to six months at a time.
According to the for the trade body for the companies delivering the Work Programme, Boots are the only business so far to pull out.
All pickets, actions and boycotts should remain in place until companies and charities issue a clear and unambiguous rejection of all workfare schemes.
Whilst it’s clearly good news that some companies appear to have forced a climbdown on the Work Experience Scheme, let’s not pretend the likes of Tesco and McDonalds are noble defenders of the proletariat. If they can find a way to continue using forced labour without if affecting their corporate reputations then of course they will.
Perhaps this was the deal Grayling offered, pointing out he’s been getting away with lying through his teeth for two weeks now, so he’d just come up with a bit more horseshit in an attempt to mislead the public and this horrible business would all go away. Well, it hasn’t.
We don’t even really know if anything is likely to change on the Work Experience Scheme, with the DWP Press Release stating that the ‘sanctions regime remains in place’.
Until the DWP issues a clear statement that the workfare regime is over, we are simply back to square one. If the companies concerned think Grayling’s weasel words were anywhere near enough then they have once again misjudged the public. We are not fucking stupid. And we can recognise an attempted Government and corporate stitch up when we see one.
31 (and counting) protests against companies profiting from forced labour will still go ahead this weekend. It is telling that Boots, hounded as they were last year over their dodgy tax arrangements, should be the first to distance themselves from workfare altogether. They know all too well of the consequences of suffering this kind of repeated protest outside and inside their stores.
The campaign against workfare is undoubtedly working. But it is a long way from over.