The Work Programme Provider Guidance (PDF), which was re-written yet again over the Summer, warns that any community placement lasting over 6 weeks and which comes with a job offer at the end will breach the minimum wage laws.
Astonishingly the DWP don’t even seem sure whether other workfare style schemes are legal, potentially leaving workfare exploiting charities exposed to backdated wage claims running to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The good news is that the latest guidelines are straight forward – work experience for private companies is voluntary and claimants can leave at any point without the threat of benefit sanctions. The only exception to this is when participants have been judged to have committed gross misconduct. It is yet to be seen whether this clause will be misused in practice by exploitative employers and over-zealous welfare to work companies.
The bad news is that those who refuse workfare at private companies can be mandated to a Community Benefit Work Placement. This can mean Work Programme participants face unlimited forced labour for charities, local authorities or even private companies who claim to offer a ‘community benefit’.
It is these unpaid positions which the DWP warn must not lead to a job, however it is quite possible that the same rules apply to all workfare placements:
“Even if they are not paid by the employer, participants will qualify for the NMW (National Minimum Wage) if they are regarded as employees of the employer AND are participating in a trial period of work with that employer, in which the employer has agreed to offer a job to the participant if they successfully complete the trial, in cases where the trial is in excess of six weeks.”
The DWP warn that: “Employment” has a wide meaning, and participants are likely to be regarded as employees if they agree voluntarily to take up the placement with a particular employer.”
It is clear, workfare must not be voluntary, and must not come with the promise of a job.
Elsewhere the guidance is not so clear. The DWP warn that: “As a general rule, persons participating in a relevant Government Scheme – which includes the Work Programme – designed to provide training, work experience or temporary work, or to assist in seeking or obtaining work, do not qualify for the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in respect of work done for an employer as part of that scheme.”
However they also point out: “The NMW is very unlikely to apply to participants mandated to participate in unpaid work experience or an unpaid community benefit work placement through the Work Programme, or to Participants who volunteer to take part in an unpaid placement of either type which is not a work trial exceeding 6 weeks.”
Clearly the department is winging it in the hope that any future legal cases don’t rule against them. Some charities, like the British Heart Foundation, have employed hundreds of unpaid workers on the various workfare schemes and will no doubt be re-assured that it is ‘very unlikely’ they will end up facing a backdated wage bill of over a million pounds.
The Work Programme, established to help long term unemployed people find work is fast becoming a joke. The DWP themselves don’t seem to know what the ever changing rules are, or even whether the whole racket is legal. Despite hundreds of millions of pounds being handed over to welfare to work parasites like A4e and G4S, long term unemployment is soaring.
The new minister in charge, Mark Hoban, in his brief appearances yesterday, appeared to think everything is wonderful at the DWP. Soaring long term unemployment, rising youth unemployment and a pitiful fall in unemployment overall is apparently good news.
It seems that despite the appointment of a new minister, the shambles at the DWP is far from over. The clown ultimately in charge, Iain Duncan Smith is, as usual, nowhere to be seen whilst bungling ex-Employment Minister Chris Grayling was only too happy to scramble off the sinking ship. Unfortunately for those trapped on endless workfare or in desperate poverty due to benefit sanctions, there is no such escape from the brutal incompetence which has become the hallmark of the DWP.