Tag Archives: TUC

There Is No Such Thing As A Fair Benefit Sanction And They Are Not A Tory Invention

sanction-deaths

A pregnant women who was sanctioned in disguise at a recent protest so Jobcentre staff don’t recognise her. From The Poor Side Of Life

Iain Duncan Smith’s mass use of benefit sanctions is driving people to their deaths.  But it began under Labour, and was not opposed by most trade unions or charities established to support people living in poverty.

In 2008 the Labour government published a green paper entitled ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility’ (PDF).  Gordon Brown himself wrote the forward to the document pledging “tough responsibilities that respect tax payers” for all of those on some form of out of work benefit.

Even for a Government which had already introduced workfare and the despised Work Capability Assessment, some of the measures proposed were shocking.  These included mandatory work related activity – a vague term that often means workfare – for both sick and disabled claimants and lone parents with children over 5.  Other proposals included a policy that long term unemployed people should be sent on workfare for “as long as needed”.  Those with a drug problem would be required to undertake mandatory treatment regimes and possibly even drug testing.  Benefit sanctions would be strengthened. A new and privatised ‘Fit For Work’ service would be introduced to encourage people to go back to work quickly if they became ill.  And all those currently claiming sickness or disability benefits would be ‘frequently’ re-assessed at the notorious Work Capability Assessments which were being run by French IT company Atos.

Atos were far from the only private company set to rake in huge sums from Labour’s savage attack on the poor.  The green paper proposed that private providers would be able to bid for any welfare-to-work service.  This was based on a recommendation from David Freud, now better known as Lord Fraud, the current Tory Minister for Welfare Reform.

Except for mandatory treatment for drug users, all of these measure were eventually introduced, some by Labour and some by the Tories.  Many of Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious policies were actually first proposed by Labour.

The consequences of Labour’s welfare reforms were devastating. 52,399 benefit sanctions were inflicted on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in March 2010.  This was twice the number from just two years earlier and more than the 51,142 sanctions handed out by the Tories in September 2014, the most recent month for which figures are available. 

In March 2010 the number of people on sickness benefits who had their benefits stopped for failure to carry out ‘work related activity’ hit a high of 3,673.  This is just slightly below the 3,828 sanctions handed out to this group in September 2014.

To hear the current rhetoric from the TUC, you would think that mass benefit sanctions were a Tory invention.  TUC General Secretary Frances O-Grady recently released a statement saying “Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.”  This was in response to a report showing the desperate toll that sanctions were taking on lone parents and most importantly their children,  As far back as 2008 the government’s own experts, the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommended that lone parents should not face sanctions.  The Labour government rejected this advice (PDF).

The TUC’s position is that some sanctions are acceptable.  Most charities share the same view.  The Labour Party have merely said there will be no targets for sanctions should they win the election.  Iain Duncan Smith already claims there are no benefit sanction targets.

Yet again this week coroners found that benefit stoppages had been a factor in two tragic suicides.  Leaving someone with no income at all, in one of the richest countries in the world, is inexcusable and inhumane.  To do this to people who can’t find a job, when we know there are not enough jobs to go round, is dystopian.  In the UK today, if you are poor, then you live under a regime of state inflicted terror.

Jobcentres have no idea what is going on in people’s lives when these sanctions are handed out.  They often do not know if someone has a mental health condition, or if they are homeless, a victim of domestic violence, or even just in the midst of a personal crisis.  Perhaps they are already desperately trying to avoid eviction by paying off rent arrears out of meagre benefits.   Perhaps they are about to have their gas or electricity disconnected.  Benefit claimants are already desperately poor.  No matter how ‘fair’ or ‘proportionate’ sanctions are claimed to be, no matter how many so-called safeguards are introduced (and ignored), benefit sanctions will always destroy lives.  For a small few they will be the tipping point that turns this so-called ‘help’ from the Jobcentre into a potential death sentence.

This is what the TUC and some charities support and it is fucking vile.  Benefit sanctions need to be stopped without exceptions.  It is way beyond time that those leading the trade union movement, and those in charities that claim to care about people in poverty, were brave enough to take a meaningful stand against the horrifying regime inflicted on those unable to find work.  Their current whining from the sidelines is both incoherent and ineffective.  Their cowardice makes them complicit in killing people.

On the 19th March the community section of UNITE Union will be holding a day of action against sanctions.  This will include protests outside Jobcentres across the UK.  Many have been organised by unemployed people themselves and they deserve support.  But even UNITE have doggedly refused to answer the question of whether they are opposed to all sanctions.

The PCS Union, who represent Jobcentre workers, have  commited to this position, although they refuse to do anything much about it.  Both UNITE and the PCS should be ferociously lobbying the TUC leadership to take an urgent stand against all benefit sanctions.  It is the very least they can do after all.  Now these sanctions can also be inflicted on low paid part time workers.  A trade union movement that doesn’t just tolerate this cruelty, but endorses it in some circumstances is worse than negligent.  It is a trade union movement that is actively attacking the very poorest working class people.  And for that the TUC leadership should hang their fucking heads in shame.

For a list of the protests called so far as part of UNITE’s day of action against sanctions visit their website.  Please help spread the word.

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Take Action! Challenge The TUC’s Support For Workfare: @PayRise4Britain Must Mean Wages For Everyone

traineeships-300x257From Boycott Workfare

Challenge the TUC’s support for workfare, on the first day of online action for the Boycott Workfare week of action

On 1 August 2014, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) made a joint statement with Confederation of British Industries (CBI) to back Traineeships for 16-23 year olds and “show support” for the businesses that benefit from the unpaid labour on this scheme.

Traineeships involve training and “work placements” for up to six months – all unpaid. The TUC’s Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak hails Traineeships as “an important first step towards the world of work”. But in giving a green light to a new layer of unpaid work in the economy, the TUC is in fact helping to shrink opportunities for young people, undermine the going rate, and replace paid work with workfare.

Traineeships mean that young people are now expected to work unpaid for six months before even qualifying for an interview for an apprenticeship. The lucky few who make it through the interview can look forward to a minimum wage of £2.73 an hour, as an apprentice.

TUC A5 Protest

If a young person does not take part in the training, they face punitive sanctions. The work placement segment itself may not be backed with the direct threat of sanctions, but, between the economic coercion of a jobs market with so few footholds and the draconian job centre regime, few people will feel able to turn them down.

Instead of demanding decent wages, the TUC is supporting McDonalds, Toyota, Virgin Media, BT, Vodafone, Phones4U, Siemens, Capita, local councils and many more being supplied with unpaid staff for up to 6 months on benefits alone, without any obligations to hire them!

The TUC plans to march behind the slogan “Britain needs a payrise” on 18 October. It seems to have chosen to ignore the millions of us who do not have paid work and instead face workfare and sanctions.

Today as Kilburn Unemployed Workers protest this shoddy deal outside the TUC HQ in London, please contact the TUC via the details below, or through your union networks.  

When challenging their support for Traineeships, you might also like to point out that:

  • The TUC’s support for Labour’s Job Guarantee means undermining the going rate and minimum wage too.
  • The TUC’s support for benefit sanctions is totally unacceptable. It has recommended that ‘claimants who turn down a job guarantee job without good cause should face benefit sanctions’. Let the TUC know that punishing people by taking away their means to survival can never be okay.

Contact the Assistant General Secretary who issued the statement with CBI by email: pnowak@tuc.org.uk or send him a tweet: @nowak_paul

Tweet at Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC: @FrancesOGrady 

Tweet at “Britain needs a Payrise” @PayRise4Britain or post on its Facebook

Post on the TUC’s Facebook page

Or get in touch with the TUC’s press officers who released the statement:

Rob Holdsworth    T: 020 7467 1372    M: 07717 531150     E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Tim Nichols   T: 020 7467 1337   M: 07876 452902   E: tnichols@tuc.org.uk

If you’re a member of a trade union, please download and adapt this motion to challenge the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare.

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2000 Workfare Staff Planned For Tax Office Next Year, And The PCS Union Is Doing … Nothing At All

TUC-A5-ProtestThe TUC’s recent grovelling endorsement of unpaid – and soon to be mandatory – Traineeships has caused dismay amongst many in the trade union movement with protests even planned outside their London offices.

This is not the first time to TUC have enthusiastically backed unpaid work.  Last year they were involved in the ‘week of workfare’, a shabby inititiative organised by the DWP funded Fair Train to rehabilitate workfare by introducing a quality standard for so called work experience schemes.  The whole thing turned out to be an embarrassing flop for everybody involved, but showed just how far the TUC are prepared to go to support the very same kind of unpaid work experience that they rightly oppose when it comes to graduates working as interns for no pay

Anger at the TUC’s latest announcement even emerged at last month’s conference when the PCS Union accused them of breaking their own policies that all work experience schemes should be both paid and voluntary.  No-one knows better than the PCS, who represent thousands of DWP staff, that no current Jobcentre schemes are genuinely voluntary.  Whilst claimants live in fear of being plunged into destitution by benefit sanctions for something as simple as being late to a meeting, it is hardly surprising some may agree to so-called non-mandatory workfare.  If they refuse they could simply be sent on mandatory workfare somewhere else, or face being cooped up in a Jobcentre for 30 hours a week for the next six months.

Sadly however, information has come to light that once again the PCS Union are all mouth and no trouers when it comes to opposing workfare and sanctions.  HMRC are currently planning to recruit over 1000 young unemployed people this year – and double that in 2015 – to work in the tax office for up to six weeks without pay.  This comes despite job losses at HMRC and there is already evidence that these new workfare staff will be replacing the roles of formerly paid employees.  According to rank and file PCS activists, during a pilot of this new scheme: “those brought in on workfare … were given jobs involving ‘filing, linking, correspondence and data entry.’  In other words, the jobs currently done by the AA grade who are being culled wholesale through post room digitalisation and privatisation as well as office closures.”

The DWP have also had their fair share of workfare staff which so far the PCS have failed to do anything about, although they are pretending they have.  In a briefing for members sent out in 2012, the union boasted that they had negotiated that “that DWP hosted work experience placements do not exploit those who take them up.”

It is hard to understand exactly how the PCS think that  young people bullied into working without pay are not being exploited.  That’s young people like Nisha, who was forced to spend the day on Twitter promoting unpaid work on behalf of Iain Duncan Smith.  Despite doing a far better job of dodging objections to workfare than the chinless pricks currently occuying the DWP Press Office, Nisha was not paid a penny for her work.

The PCS claim to oppose benefit sanctions, but have done nothing practical to end this practice that their members administer in Jobcentres.  They also claim to oppose unpaid work, yet the workplaces they are strongest in are riddled with workfare.  And opposing workfare means more than just making speeches or getting leaflets printed.  In the words of some grassroots PCS members this means:

“HMRC offices which utilise workfare placements need to be targeted for staff walkouts and external protests. Directors who sanction workfare should be faced with communication blockades. Those brought in on workfare need to be informed of their rights and supported by the union in every way possible. Strikes and industrial action on the job need to disrupt the day to day running of things in the fight over jobs and staffing.”

Or as some unions point out, the answer to unpaid work is simple:

As part of the Week of Action Against Workfare,  Kilburn Unemployed Workers have called a protest this Monday (tomorrow 6th October) outside the TUC’s main offices in London in response to this craven betrayal of young people’s right to be paid for the work they do.  Meet at 1pm outside Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3LS.

Events are planned to oppose workfare throughout next week and throughout the UK, visit Boycott Workfare’s website for full details and spread the word!

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How The TUC Always Planned To Abandon Out of Work Benefit Claimants

boycott-workfare-real-jobsThe TUC’s shameful support of workfare may be part of a deliberate strategy of trying to win support for the welfare state by abandoning those they believe people see as the ‘undeserving poor’.

Towards the end of last year the TUC invited disability and anti-poverty charities to a one day conference called Winning on Welfare.  The real reason for this misnamed vol-au-vent munching session however was to discuss the terms of surrender as the TUC announced they planned to focus their support for social security on working claimants only.  They were quite candid about the reasons for this, a document accompanying the event explained:

“We must understand that the government has majority support for its general approach and that there is very strong support for some changes such as the benefit cap … People think that the current system is unfair as they think there is too much abuse and a dependency culture which keeps people from getting a job.”

The remedy for this according to the TUC is “to show that the government’s welfare reforms are a threat to the hard working people the government claim to support in the welfare debate.”  As such the TUC have decided to abandon people who are unemployed or unable to work due to chlld or other care commitments, sickness or disability.  Instead they will focus on the five week wiating period set to be a part of Universal Credit and on warning ‘hard working people’ what might happen to them if they lose their job or become unable to work.

This policy was manufactured based on a poll they carried out which found that some people had negative views of benefit claimants.  This was followed up with two further focus groups made up of people with “soft support” for the government’s current policies.  Somewhat predictably these groups were found to have views which softly supported the  government’s current policies.

Despite this however, most people strongly supported the principles of social security, even down to specific types of benefit such as Tax Credits or disability benefits.  The only benefit which was unpopular overall was Housing Benefit, which goes into the pockets of landlords, not claimants.

This apparant contradiction has been a feature of other research into people’s views on the benefits system, including that produced by the DWP.  Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has made much of the popularity of the Benefit Cap, the number in support fell to less than half if it was shown to cause people to have to move from their local area.  A DWP poll showed support for the Bedroom Tax initially, yet once people realised the suffering it would cause it became an electoral liability.

What all the research seems to show is that some people, usually slightly over half, are responsive to the kind of scrounger rhetoric that has poisoned the debate about social security.  But they are also often passionate supporters of the principles of a welfare state and do not want to lose it.

Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are built on lies: two of the main ones being that the social security system was generous to begin with, and that there is a job for everybody if they just try hard enough.  These lies began under the last Labour government who decided that even people with serious illnesses should be declared fit for work and forced to compete in the jobs market.  They called this equality, even empowerment.  It has caused breath-taking suffering.

There are around four million people on out of work benefits.  The most recent figures show there are about 650,000 job vacancies.  The idea that there is enough work to go around isn’t even taken seriously by the Tory think tank who designed current welfare policies, and who recently said that reducing unemployment to zero is neither feasible nor desirable.  As for the lie that the social security system was generous, well a million people using foodbanks soon demolishes that claim.

Many of those using foodbanks are working and of course in-work benefits must be defended.  The TUC could even go further and fight – really fight, not just print leaflets – to get those workers a decent wage.  That is the point of trade unions after all.  But to betray those out of work, just because 52% of people agreed that “too many people depend on government hand outs”, is inexcusable.  Winning on welfare means actually having the fucking argument not cravenly following the whims of whatever a polling company says public opinion is this week.  It means not cowardly accepting the Labour Paty’s current policies which seem to favour a two-tier social security system based on how long people have been in work, with benefits stopped or means tested for the young and forced work for people who are longer-term unemployed.

This is how we lose the welfare state.  By begging for compromises instead of demanding comprehensive social security for everybody.  By conceding defeat based on weak public opinion instead of arguing that it is an atrocity that people should go hungry in one of the richest countries in the world.  By not fighting against unpaid work, the one area where the TUC could actually make a real difference.  Unless they radically change course, the TUC must not be allowed to set the terms of this debate.  Because at the moment they are sadly not on our side.

Above pic from; http://wessexsolidarity.wordpress.com

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The TUC And Workfare: Sadly It’s Worse Than You Think

workfare_0Just days after the TUC teamed up with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Tory Ministe Nick Boles, to sing the praises of unpaid work, a shocking document has emerged which goes even further in endorsing workfare.

As unearthed by @refuted, the TUC have issued guidleines to union reps on what they should do if their employer plans to take workfare placements.  Astonishingly the TUC even appear to want to help reps to:  approach their employer to provide young unemployed people in their area with a good quality work experience placement“.  They are not just refusing to oppose workfare, but are actively encouraging it in unionised workplaces.

There then follows a description of what the TUC have decided is good workfare but which barely even resembles the current schemes.  Their claim that “Work experience placements should not continue for more than a few weeks comes despite their previous endorsement of Traineeships which can involve up to five months unpaid work.   Workfare should also always lead to a job or an Apprenticeship say the TUC, yet not one of the current work experience programmes offers this.

The TUC claim workfare employers should provide fares, lunch and any other out of pocket expenses, yet it is the providers managing the schemes that are responsible for paying fares.  The companies running the latest workfare placements are even warned:  “You must not give (and ensure host organisations do not give) any incentive payments or rewards to the claimant for participation in CWP”.  So there goes lunch.

Laughably they even say people on workfare should be informed about “workplace employment rights” when those on unpaid government schemes do not have any fucking employment rights. Get sacked, and you will probably get sanctioned.

On the question of compulsory workfare – and all unpaid work comes with a heavy dose of Jobcentre coercion whether backed by sanctions or not – the TUC are vague.  All they are prepared to say is that the best workfare placements are ‘voluntary’ and that they don’t like the curent benefit sancioning regime.  And that’s it.  This is their craven response to forced unpaid labour under the threat of poverty, destitution or homelessness.  The same poverty that recently killed David Clapson.  They don’t like it.  It makes them feel bad.  But they are going to do fuck all about it and seem to think sanctions are worth it for all the wonderful training workfare offers.

It is unclear whether the TUC expect their conditions to be met before an employer begins using workfare.  What is certain is that they never will be, the rules of workfare are written into legislation.  There is no guidance on what a rep should do if their employer ignores these demand.  The answer seems to be nothing.

No-one expected the TUC to be much help in the struggle against welfare reforms, but for them to openly side with Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP is obscene.  Their intervention could not have come at a worse time as the government attempts a massive roll out of the biggest workfare programme yet.  It will be claimants resisting this attack on working rights, not tired old union bureacrats.  But if the TUC are not prepared to back those who actually face unpaid work then the best they could do is get out of the fucking way.

You can let the TUC know what you think @TUCnews.  Don’t expect them to listen though.

The guidance is available at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/learning-and-training/work-experience-placements-guidance-union-reps

This blog will be sporadic until September.

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TUC Side With Bosses To Back Tory Workfare Scheme

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

In an astonishing and genuinely sad day for the trade uni0n movement, the TUC have teamed up with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to issue a statement supporting unpaid work.

The TUC have sided with the bosses to sing the praises of the Tory Traineeship programme.  This unpaid scheme can involve up to five months full-time work, sometimes for giant profit making companies like BT or Virgin.  The placements are used to ‘prepare’ young people to be Apprentices, although there is no guarantee that they will be offered even this at the end of the scheme.

Just like Margaret Thatcher’s despised YTS schemes, Traineeships represent a wealth grab by greedy employers.  Once companies recognised they had to pay young people whilst they trained – now the tax payer will  pick up the tab whilst the worker gets nothing.  And just like the YTS programme was used as political cover to strip benefits from 16/17 year olds, Traineeships will be used to undermine social security payments for those under 25.  George Osborne has already announced that under 22 year olds who refuse a Traineeship will soon face the prospect of six month’s workfare somewhere else instead. 

Despite Osborne’s announcement, the TUC say in the statement that Traineeships should be voluntary.  As claimants themselves know, very little is voluntary such is the current mass benefit sanctioning culture at the DWP.   This doesn’t seem to bother the scabs running the TUC who seem to have decided that Traineeships aren’t workfare, and even if they would rather they were voluntary they appear to back them anyway.  This is an appalling attack on not just young unemployed people, but all workers who will see their own wages and conditions undermined by an army of unpaid staff.

It is hardly surprising that the CBI are salivating at the prospect of this huge subsidy for business at the expense of the working class.  Tory Skills Minister Nick Boles has joined them saying he is ‘delighted’ that the TUC support this scheme.  They no doubt dream of a day when they don’t have to pay people under 25 at all. That day may not be far away and that the TUC are helping to bring it closer is as shocking as it is shameful.

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The Tories And The TUC Are Both Hypocrites Over Unpaid Work

Interns-workers-and-the-minimum-wage1The breath-taking hypocrisy of both the Tory Party and the TUC was laid bare this week after an astonishing document emerged which advises Tory Party MPs on how to dodge minimum wage legislation by renaming interns as ‘volunteers’.

The leaflet, which was published on the Graduate Fog website, provides legal advice on minimum wage legislation along with a template letter that can be used to fob off any enquiries to MPs about their use of unpaid interns.  This shoddy attempt to dodge the rules on paying workers comes in the same week that David Cameron announced in Parliament that his Government was naming and shaming firms which don’t pay minimum wage.

It is not just the Tory Party who are shameless hypocrites when it comes to unpaid work however.  The TUC have been quick to criticise this document, with a press release claiming they are ‘disappointed that MPs are being advised on how to get round the minimum wage’.

Yet late last year the very same TUC were involved in the Week of Workfare, a DWP funded celebration of unpaid Work Experience.  The TUC have also backed a Quality Standard award for work experience – even going as far as supporting a document which called for companies which use unpaid workers to be paid by the tax payer.  This is despite the TUC claiming to be opposed to workfare, which is what the Government’s Work Experience scheme is.  As pointed out by @boycottworkfare, last year’s vote at the TUC Conference to campaign against workfare seems to have been completely ignored.

It appears that the TUC leadership think unpaid work for largely middle class graduates wanting to work for the Tory Party is disappointing – but workfare for the poor is just fine.  You might even question whose side they are on, because at the moment it doesn’t look much like it’s ours.

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