Companies profiting from fear of losing benefits
Tesco, Primark and Asda among those named as using Workfare labour
Corporate Watch have named a number of major retailers where unemployed people were being sent to work without pay. Under the government's Workfare scheme Tesco, Primark, Asda, Sainsbury's, Hilton, Poundland, Matalan, Savers, Wilkinsons and TK Maxx were provided with free labour by Jobcentres and employment provider companies.
A spokesperson for the Boycott Workfare campaign, which encourages companies not to take people on this type of unpaid work placement, said: “Huge companies making billions are profiting from people being made to work without pay while in fear of losing everything. These companies can afford to hire and pay staff yet perversely they are increasingly reliant on a workforce subsidised by taxpayers. Councils are replacing paid positions with Workfare and charities are replacing paid and voluntary vacancies with unpaid mandatory workers. Workfare as a policy doesn't make sense in this economic climate. We want to see a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.”
Speaking to Corporate Watch, a woman who was given a placement in Primark for six months under the previous government's welfare programme, says her work was the same as that of other paid staff and that she was not given a job at the end of it. She also said she was told her benefits would be stopped if she did not attend. This arrangement is set to continue with the Work Programme. Primark did not comment.
Asked by Corporate Watch how it benefited from these placements, a spokesperson from Matalan said: “we obviously get people who want to work and we are always grateful of the extra help, especially during busy times.” The discount retailer added the placements gave participants a chance to “try the job out to see if it's the right career for them,” and that they gain “a wealth of valuable experience and get a chance to engage with their community.”
The company promised to get back to Corporate Watch with examples of people who had moved from the placements to paid work but, at the time of publication, had not done so. The company, which posted profits of £73 million in February 2011, said it did not know how many people had participated in its placements across the country as these were managed on a store-by-store basis. However, in a sign that the number of placements would significantly increase under the coalition government's welfare reforms, the company added it was “hoping to have a national provider such as Retail Works [Seetec] or Job Centre Plus on board by early next year.”
A Tesco spokesperson said the company had 3,000 work experience placements for “the young unemployed” and that “many work placement staff starting on work placements will become Tesco employees." Tesco was taking 18-24 year olds for between two to eight weeks on Work Experience Placements direct from Job centres.
Asda and Sainsbury's were named in a list, obtained last month under the Freedom of Information Act, of companies, voluntary and public sector bodies taking unpaid work placements organised by an employment company contracted by the government. Asda did not comment. Sainsbury's denied working with the company. The company said it organised its own ‘You Can’ programme, outside the government schemes, which they said always led to paid work.
Hilton Hotels told Corporate Watch they had “committed to 100 placements at hotels around the country – that’s more than one for every hotel we operate.” Explaining the reasons behind its involvement, Hilton said: “the work experience initiative will help unemployed young people to develop the skills needed to secure a sustainable job,” but campaigners critical of these “workfare” programmes question why the companies are not paying a proper wage. Hilton said “a number” of young people are offered full-time positions at the end of their placement.
TK Maxx declined to comment, while Savers and Wilkinsons did not reply to repeated requests for comment. Poundland had been revealed to be taking people on unpaid placements earlier in the year.
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