From the TUC

Say No to Workfare and why it’s triply unfair

25 May 2012, by in Society & Welfare

The TUC’s new Charter on work experience and workfare sets out just why we are opposed to workfare and draws a distinction between bad work experience and good.

Workfare – making unemployed people do unpaid work in jobs that would normally be done by paid workers – is triply unfair. Firstly, it is unfair to unemployed people –unpaid work is exploitation, pure and simple. Secondly, it is unfair to workers – when they have to compete with workfare conscripts some workers will lose their jobs, others will find that their pay, overtime or other conditions deteriorate (and the workers who lose most will be the weakest and lowest paid.)

Thirdly, it is unfair to other businesses. Employers who don’t use people on workfare will find it difficult to match competitors who are effectively being subsidised. You don’t hear this point very often, but progressive businesses have a very good reason to oppose workfare.

Workfare isn’t the only unpaid work that’s around at the moment. Plenty of government employment programmes offer “work experience” which may not be substituting for the work of other workers but still has all the other characteristics of a job.

Trades unionists know bad work experience when we come across it. We recognise it when unemployed people tell us about programme providers who send them off to do a few days’ work for no pay, with no training and no expectation of an interview, let alone a job offer. You have to suspect that this is simply about making an unscrupulous employer an offer they have no intention of refusing.

But work experience isn’t necessarily a problem. Where unions negotiate for voluntary paid work experience, leading to an interview or job offer and safeguards to protect existing workers it can be a win-win solution to a serious economic problem. Job guarantees, that create real jobs for unemployed people could help prevent the emergence of a ‘lost generation’ of young people.

The best answer of all would be is a growing economy, creating the jobs unemployed workers desperately want. And that means that the government must accept that austerity is choking growth.

2 Responses to Say No to Workfare and why it’s triply unfair

  1. Russell
    May 25th 2012, 7:52 pm

    Exactly, workfare subsidizes cheap labour for business and is one more example of the transfer of public money into private hands.

    And there are plenty of avaricious little scams within the programmes themselves. Even though I moved out of London seven months ago – was forced 120 miles north due to the housing benefit caps – my work programme provider has not been reassigned [for some reason the folks receiveing funding for me in Tower Hamlets are being lackadaisical with their paperwork, while I’m still on their books – I’ve now found part-time work, so, doubtless, they’ll be applying for a reward payment; they have had no input in my finding employment.] So someone is getting money for nothing. Obviously, folks who might be exploited while on programmes don’t object if they get brushed under the carpet. Lots of this milking goes on; on every single programme I’ve thus far seen. I once attended a programme in Aldwych which wasn’t provided and I didn’t actually attend. It truly is a scandal. One day I was turned away from a centre I was supposed to attend because they were having a corporate party – balloons, cakes, sandwiches… What’s thus far been in the papers is nothing. But I’m not sure the attested purpose of these schemes is the ‘real’ purpose. Their greatest effectiveness is that publicity about them – and the demonisation of claimant status – pressures people in work to put up with worse pay and conditions. This is what the government pays for.

    In addition to the number of businesses making money through welfare to work, how about the apprentice scheme? This could be useful training for young unemployed people, or it could be cheap labour for business.

  2. Kay Fabe
    May 25th 2012, 7:52 pm

    If I may, you miss a couple of aspects. Wages that aren’t paid can’t be spent into the economy. If the butcher and the baker are getting their staff for free those staff won’t be spending their wages with either of them nor the candlestick maker. If that worthy retaliates by sacking his paid workers and replacing them with Workfarers, his overheads might shrink a little but takings will go down further, not just at his establishment but at the butcher’s and the bakers too. Workfare means that overall the community’s worse off. Then there’s the matter of the community’s tax take. Lots of working people but no income taxes from them (as they’re earning no income) plus no NI nor employer’s NI. The community tax take will be down too, so who pays when the workfarers get sick and there’s not enough tax take in the kitty to cover it? Workfare is hugely unfair not just on those forced to perform it but on the general population too.