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Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

Tales of unpaid toil: sanctioned by the Samaritans

Posted: August 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Guest blog, Name and shame, Personal accounts, Sanctions | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Though the Samaritans don’t appear on the recently released lists of workfare exploiters from 2012, we’ve had a report of a Mandatory Work Activity placement in their shop in Hove in 2014. Recently, a claimant has also contacted us about Community Work Placements at another Samaritans charity shop in May 2016. Our correspondent writes: “I would like to point out that, even though I wasn’t placed at the Samaritans, other people sent by Interserve were.”
Like some other claimants who told the truth when questioned about health considerations during an interview and were not taken on, this individual has been sanctioned.
So a claimant who replies honestly about a health condition is alleged to be ‘negative’? Given that the upcoming Work & Health Programme targets claimants with disabilities and long-term health issues, we’ll greet this with a shudder and then get very, very angry.

Tales of unpaid toil: Sanctioned by the Samaritans 1

This doesn’t seem to apply to claimants conscripted to work for free in Samaritans shops

Sanctioned by the Samaritans

I was sent for a CWP placement interview at a Samaritans charity shop. Due to my health issues, the store manager decided that I wasn’t suitable. On returning to Interserve I was removed from the CWP program and ended up with a four-week sanction.

I complained and tried to appeal but the provider Interserve and later the Jobcentre claimed that I had been very negative during the interview and refused to do the placement. This was a lie! The store manager had asked me early in the interview if I had health problems and I had only told her the truth. Read the rest of this entry »


500+ abusers of workfare conscripts named and shamed – as in the public interest

Posted: July 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Guest blog, Law, Name and shame | 2 Comments »

This is the second of two linked posts about the DWP’s release of the names of organisations that were using Mandatory Work Activity in 2011-12. The first post – a response from Boycott Workfare – is here. This blog is a guest post by Frank Zola, a member of Boycott Workfare who has been involved since the start in the battle to get the DWP to reveal the names of workfare exploiters through Freedom of Information requests. You can also read the post on his blog here. Frank Zola was previously sanctioned as a flexible new deal (“work for your benefit“) workfare refusenik and A4e conscript.

“READ THIS AND RAGE AGAINST THE SYSTEM!”
— Clare Hepworth OBE (@Hepworthclare) July 31, 2016

12484687_1540345392950347_9095697624421230114_o (1)1. Report on Court of Appeal ruling
2. Background resources, FOI requests, Media reporting, ICO decisions, Tribunals and Court of Appeal rulings
3. Names of the 534 shameful workfare exploiters (employers)

“In a battle with the information commissioner, the DWP has said that the government’s mandatory work programme would “collapse” if the names were made public due to the likelihood of protests against the organisations involved.”
Guardian – 9th November 2012

1. Report on Court of Appeal ruling

(Joint update with Boycott Workfare)

Battle royal

After a 4 and half year battle, on Wednesday July 27th 2016 the DWP was forced by a Court of Appeal (CofA) ruling to capitulate and release the names of more than 500 –  Mandatory Work Activity workfare exploiters.

A matter of judgement and public interest

This decision was reached by three judges on a 2 to 1 basis, citing public interestconsiderations being “firmly” viewed by the first tier tribunal (FTT) as “appreciably” outweighing the commercial interests of the workfare placement hosting employers not to be named and be subject to protests. The FTT ruling(pdf) dealt with three conjoined appeals (Zola, Naysmith and Kelly), as all requested names of workfare exploiters.

“The tribunal is firmly of the view that in these appeals the scales are weighed appreciably in favour of disclosure”

A precedent

This legal precedent should now mean anyone, anywhere in the world, is free to use the Freedom of Information Act (2000) (FOIA) to request the names of UK workfare exploiting employers. I suggest using whatdotheyknow.com to make such FOIA requests, as it ensures the FOIA process is kept open and transparent. Do not get too complacent or underestimate the importance of this “vast” list of workfare exploiters, just note that Éire disclosed a similar list of nearly 12,000 of it’s Government forced-labour conscript employers. Read the rest of this entry »


Another win: 4-year legal battle finally reveals workfare exploiters!

Posted: July 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Law, Name and shame | 6 Comments »

This is the first of two linked posts about the DWP being forced to reveal the names of hundreds of workfare exploiters from 2012, after losing a four year legal battle. Frank Zola has pursued this information since 2012. Mr Zola is a member of Boycott Workfare, and you can read the second post – his detailed account of the Court of Appeal ruling and its background – here: 500+ abusers of workfare conscripts named and shamed. He was previously sanctioned as a flexible new deal (“work for your benefit“) workfare refusenik and A4e conscript.

Another win: 4-year legal battle finally reveals workfare exploiters! 1In January 2012, three Freedom of Information requests were made for the names of organisations that were benefitting from unpaid labour through workfare schemes. This month the Department for Work and Pensions finally released information about one of these schemes – Mandatory Work Activity – after they’d resisted and delayed, appealing from court to court, for four and a half years. The public now officially have a right to know which organisations use workfare. You can read the full list of 534 businesses and charities who were involved in MWA here.

Workfare secrecy

Workfare – forced, unpaid labour in return for social security – relies on businesses and charities being willing to take on benefit claimants as unpaid workers. Up until this week, the DWP has protected the identity of these organisations.

The information the DWP has just released is about the business and charities that were using MWA placements in 2011-12. But the ruling means that the DWP should now disclose further information about which organisations are benefitting from workfare today, in response to further requests. Any of us can use a Freedom of Information request to find out what organisations are using workfare in our area, or across the UK. Read the rest of this entry »


B&M Bargains National Day of Action – over 20 stores!

Posted: July 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Name and shame | Tags: | No Comments »

Saturday 27th June saw an inspiring nation-wide Day of Action against B&M Bargains, a notorious user of workfare.
Aberystwyth Picket 4

In a very short space of time the action snowballed, with autonomous groups organising actions against B&M in at least 20 towns and cities across the UK (let us know if we’ve left you off the list below!). It was truly a moment of solidarity: “If you exploit us we will close you down!” 

Many of these groups were new or recently formed, which shows the exciting beginnings of campaigns against sanctions and workfare in even more localities. It also shows that such groups can get going almost anywhere. They can have immediate impacts and that there are many, many people out there who want to take direct action to bring an end to the exploitation, misery and poverty caused by workfare and sanctions.

The impact on B&M was clear – almost no one entered their shops while protests were taking place. And as always on anti-workfare protests, the response from the public was hugely supportive. Passers-by were shocked and appalled at a company not paying its workers. Many had never even heard of workfare and sanctions, and this shows how much the imposition of these schemes rely on maintaining unawareness in the wider public. It also points to serious questions around mainstream media’s coverage of these issues.

Managers’ responses…

At the Norwich protest, a manager admitted that he, like all managers, are given a fixed amount to spend on wages. Therefore, he can only only cover all the tasks to be done during opening hours by using workfare – while B&M Bargains made about £100 million profit last year.

Elsewhere, another manager argued that those on workfare were on “work experience”. A month of full-time work in a low-skilled job is not work experience. It is only work. But instead of a wage paid in exchange for labour as in the classic understanding of a job, compulsion is used that forces those on workfare to work for free or face sanctions.

What next?

With other companies, keeping up the pressure through monthly or even weekly pickets can be incredibly effective. Norwich has already had a follow-up protest the weekend after!

Contact B&M – Remind B&M of the reasons that workfare is unfair and the impact it could have on the company if it continues to exploit its workers.

Main Telephone: 0151 728 5400 (or search the B&M website for a local store contact) If there is interest, there could also be another National Day of Action, perhaps to coincide with the opening of a new B&M store.

Some example slogans from protests around the UK:

Workfare = Claimant Trafficking
Fair Work, not Workfare
B&M: Big Profits, No Wages
They say work, we say pay us!
Workfare = Exploitation
Don’t shop where they don’t pay wages!
Workfare = Not Fair
If you exploit us we will shut you down!

List of actions that took place:

Actions in Wales – pictures and updates on the joint Facebook page:
– Rheidol Retail Park, Aberystwyth
– Y Coed Duon/Blackwood
– Merthyr Tydfil
– Caerffili
– Caerdydd, Heol Casnewydd/Cardiff, Newport Road
– Casnewydd/Newport – 2 branches (Maesglas, and the Kingsway Centre)
– Ceredigion (near Aberystwyth)
– Cwmdu (Swansea)

Edinburgh (Musselburgh) – organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; a write-up of the action is at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/177

Middleton District Shopping Centre, LeedsLeeds Welfare Fightback and Left Unity report (first on the page).

Birkenhead, Wirral – Unite Community Branch in Wirral; pictures on Facebook.

Liverpool, Toxteth – Liverpool IWW wrote up this action here.

Liverpool, Marina Walk Ellesmere Port – supported by Unite Community Ellesmore Port and Cheshire West Trades Council.

Birmingham, Priory Square Shopping Centre – Birmingham Claimants Union

Pool, Cornwall – Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance

Norwich – Norwich Claimants Union

Tottenham, London – Haringey Left Unity

Old Kent Road (Peckham), London – organised by South London Left Unity; pictures on the Facebook event. Report on the Left Unity website (second report on the page).

Willesden, London – Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way)

Haymarket Sheffield S1 2AX – organised by Sheffield Uncut.

Sheffield, Meersbrook. Pictures and brief report online here.

 


National Day of Action Against B&M Bargains – all the actions

Posted: June 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Name and shame | No Comments »
B&M action call out image

Get in touch to order leaflets for the Day of Action on 27th June!

Here is the full list (as far as we know) of actions in the national day of action against B&M Bargains’ use of workfare today, Saturday 27th June!

If you’re going to one of these actions , let us know how you get along by email, or on Twitter. The hashtag for the day of action is #BandMDayofAction  Let’s show B&M what we think of their #BigSavingsNoWages approach.
London – 3 actions
  • 2pm-3pm B&M Store 473 High Road, Willesden (near Dollis Hill tube station) NW10 2JH
  • 11.30am, B&M Bargains, Tottenham, 867 – 869 High Road Tottenham, London, N17 8EY
  • 11am – 1pm, B&M, 593-613 Old Kent Road, London SE15 1LA

Sheffield – 2 actions: 

  • B&M Bargains on Chesterfield Road, MeersbrookSheffield, meeting outside the shop at 2pm
  • SheffieldUncut: Sat 27th June 2pm, B&M Bargains, 12-18 Haymarket, Sheffield S1 2AX
  • Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/943407845679998/

B&M bargains in Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way), Rotherham S62 6EJ

Manchester: 2pm, B&M Bargains Chorlton, 595 – 597 Wilbraham Road, Manchester, M21 9AJ / Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1700748456819555/

Leeds: B&M in Middleton District Shopping Centre, Leeds LS10 3DZ, at 2pm.
If people want to travel together by bus, they should meet up at the Corn Exchange at 1pm. Contact details are: Leeds Welfare Fightback on Facebook, leedswelfarefightback.wordpress.com, email leedsagainstsanctions@gmail.com, phone 07930 966205.
The Wirral: Unite Community Branch B&M Birkenhead, Wirral, 12pm (midday).Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/491714337646026/
Liverpool IWW – 12pm (midday), B&M Bargains, Park Road, Toxteth, L8 4UE. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/101952816813870/
 
Unite Community Ellesmore Port – 12-2pm B&M store, Marina Walk, CH65 0BL Ellesmere Port. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/432276613610255/
Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance were planning demonstrations at the B&M Bargains in Pool, Redruth & also at the B&M in St Austell. Pool protest Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/events/895011773897559/
Birmingham Claimants’ Union, 2pm, B&M store, Priory Square Shopping Centre Queensway Birmingham B4 7LL. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1456285374685146/
“Make it noisy – bring pots and pans and wooden spoons
Bring trumpets, drums, whistles and kazoos
Make it colourful
Bring a message small or big for B&M Bargains”

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty – Gather 2pm onwards at B&M Bargains, 91 – 93 High St, Musselburgh EH21 7DA


The list of shame: Court tells DWP to reveal workfare users

Posted: July 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Name and shame | 12 Comments »
Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. Following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

Two weeks ago, Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. But following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

“It is to be expected that some charities find it difficult if not impossible to defend themselves against the actions of Boycott Workfare.”Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley (reaffirming the First Tier Tribunal decision)

The DWP has lost its appeal to try and keep the list of those using workfare out of the public domain. The Upper Tribunal judgement was dismissive of the DWP’s arguments, making it clear that the DWP is just playing a delaying game – anything to slow down the release of the list of all the businesses and organisations  profiting from the use of workfare.

But that’s because there’s a lot at stake. In the DWP’s own words: “put simply, disclosure of the information in relation to the MWA scheme would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA scheme” (point 12 of the decision).

It’s great news. Once again the DWP has been wrong-footed: the great work of everyone campaigning against workfare continues to pay off. The judge defended people’s right to challenge schemes with effective democratic action.

However its not over just yet: there are still a few more delaying tactics available with further avenues for appeal that the DWP might use.  Frank Zola, one of the people who put in the original requests for the names of workfare placement providers, says:

“The decision of the Upper Tribunal, on the names of Mandatory Work
Activity (MWA) hosts, has taken two and half years and throughout this
period the ICO issued 3 similar decision notices that the DWP should
disclose the names of MWA workfare hosts and the Work Programme . It
seems clear to me that the DWP has been using these appeals to frustrate
the public’s right to know who hosts workfare placements, more as an
affront to the right-to-know principles of the Freedom of Information
Act and the rights of campaigners, bloggers and members of the public
to free speech and legitimate democratic protest.”

Luckily, we don’t have to wait for the government to name and shame workfare exploiters. Everyday people forced onto workfare schemes are exposing who is profiting. The list is growing. Have a look, pick a few and let them know why they’ve made the wrong decision. This information is a tool to take workfare apart with.

And with or without the full list, we are successfully stopping the spread of workfare. Two weeks ago, Chancellor George Osborne visited Byteback, an IT firm in Bristol, to showcase his flagship new brand of punitive 6-months’ full-time workfare, “Community Work Placements” (CWP). A week later, Byteback had heard from enough members of the public to realise it had made the wrong decision and pull out. It thanked people for explaining the issues around workfare, and said:

“From tomorrow, we will have no further involvement ever with this scheme. We had the best of intentions, both of us started this company as a result of a similar scheme back in 2002. Clearly we were wrong to get involved with workfare.”

That’s a PR disaster for workfare, and just one more blow to CWP, which already has more than 400 charities and 22 councils boycotting it, and missed its deadline for roll out by a mile.

We’re winning and workfare is being pushed back, but there are still those willing to profit from people forced to work without pay. It’s up to us to name and shame them, and make them know that the public won’t tolerate exploitation, job replacement and sanctions.

Let workfare users know what you think and take part in the next workfare week of action on 4-12 October – more on this soon!


DWP in court: challenged to reveal list it fears could make workfare “collapse”

Posted: June 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Info on schemes, Name and shame | 8 Comments »

Update 13/6/14: Read about what happened at the hearing here. Judgement is expected in 4-8 weeks.

Media release, 11 June 2014

Tomorrow, 12 June, the Information Commissioner will challenge the DWP to reveal a list of organisations which have used Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements for jobseekers at an Upper Tribunal hearing [1]. The DWP will argue that due to widespread public opposition, the controversial workfare scheme could collapse if the names are revealed [2]. If it loses the appeal, the decision could become a landmark ruling on the obligation of the DWP to reveal details of the private companies delivering government contracts [3].

It is thirty months since the original Freedom of Information request was made, and the second time that the DWP has appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision that it must reveal the names of MWA workfare placement providers [1].

Despite the government’s own evidence showing that one month MWA placements have “zero effect” on helping people into work [4], the government launched an extended six month version on 28 April, “Community Work Placements”. Like MWA, these placements rely on the participation of public and voluntary sector “host organisations” to deliver placements for “community benefit” [5].
Read the rest of this entry »


Peacocks exposed: Apply for a job – get workfare!

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | 13 Comments »
group of protesters outside peacocks

Hundreds of leaflets were given out and there was a great response from passers-by to the demos on 1st March!

Another high street chain has now been exposed as using workfare: Peacocks have taken on workfare placements instead of hiring staff. 

Two stores faced protests on 1 March and their Facebook moderators have been very busy deleting people’s messages for days now. London Boycott Workfare invites other groups to pay a visit to your local store too and put the pressure on for Peacocks to pay its staff! Download our leaflet template here.

This person’s story shows how this practice means job applications are ignored when free labour is on offer instead. Another report has come in that the Sutton store has 10 workfare placements at one time. Please find out what’s going on at your local store too and let us know!

Can’t make it to a store in person?

Peacocks’ code of conduct claims: “Employment is Freely Chosen. There is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour. This includes forced labour due to peer pressure…”

Let Peacocks know what you think about their use of workfare on their social media channels:
Facebook | Or via their website |

Or contact the company which owns them – Edinburgh Woollen Mill:
On Facebook |

I started claiming in last August, and since then have been sent on several work placements.

In December of last year I had an interview for Christmas temp work at Asda (though in the end I didn’t undertake it). One of the interviewees was someone who had been on a work placement there. At the start of the placements, people are told they will take you on a temporary contract after completing the placement, but this person had to go through the same process as everyone else.

In December I also undertook a work placement within a local Holiday Inn branch that was tied into a ‘Sector Based Work Academy’ I was referred onto and that was organised by a local college and I believe jobcentre supported. They have also now however been placed onto the ‘work experience’ list available from my jobcentre.

A few months later, I was asked to put my name down for work experience again. Our local branch of Peacocks hadn’t long reopened. They had been advertising vacancies for some time and so within the first week of the shop being open I had put my CV into the store for consideration.

Read the rest of this entry »


UK councils use half a million hours of workfare

Posted: December 28th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes, Name and shame | 10 Comments »
Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now.

Boycott Workfare’s research revealed half a million hours of unpaid work in councils

New research by Boycott Workfare, covered in The Mirror and The Guardian, reveals that UK councils have used over half a million hours of unpaid work through the government’s workfare schemes, which compel people to work without pay on threat of benefit sanctions. Click here to see if your council is involved!

In a Freedom of Information request to all councils in the UK, 38% of the 271 councils who responded and held the information had taken a workfare placement at some point in the last two years. These placements include schemes with direct benefit losses, benefit losses if you drop out after starting, or referral to a scheme with direct benefit losses if you refuse to take part. Also, with all these schemes, Boycott Workfare has heard of people being told it is compulsory by their job centre advisor, even if officially you can choose to take part.

In total 1,929 placements were reported to have taken place across the 106 councils involved since June 2011, with 15 councils reporting use of the schemes but not saying how many placements they had taken. This is over 500,000 hours of unpaid work.  Half of these reported placements were on the Work Experience scheme, but nearly 300 placements were on Mandatory Work Activity where people can receive a benefit sanction for up to 3 years for refusing to take part in the 4 week placements. Almost 300 people were also sent to work at councils through the Work Programme (or Northern Ireland’s equivalent Steps to Work) where placements were lasting up to 26 weeks.

Read the rest of this entry »


Amazon, zero hours and now the Work Programme?

Posted: August 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Welfare to work industry | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

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It was a matter of time. Amazon – which tags its workers, use zero hours contracts, practices tax avoidance, and received loans totaling £2.5 million from the UK government – look like they could also be involved in some way with the benefit sanction ridden work programme.

An employee for the HR company Transline Group who finds staff for Amazon, tweeted her thoughts on the unemployed and the power she has to ruin lives, “I get so much pleasure knowing what i can do if people mess me around” and have their “benefits stopped forever” – the photo shows more of her vile views. In doing so, she has revealed what many of us who have experienced A4e or SEETEC or REED know is true. Our lives are controlled and they relish in using sanctions to bully and punish people, whilst providing big businesses with cheap or unpaid labour.

Although the employee in question has now been suspended this raises questions of what is going on? Are Transline a subcontractor for the work programme as well as managing recruits at an Amazon store? If not what is their relationship with the local work programme provider?

Earlier this year in email correspondence passed onto Boycott Workfare, regional manager of Maximus, Jamie Guest, said “We have placed people into work in Amazon Distribution Centres in Slough, Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead”. This was after someone had already been pressured about taking a low paid job there with unspecified hours with the ‘justification’ that “you’re not even working 16/20 Hrs per week” – at Amazon you’re not even guaranteed one hour. This appears that Amazon who are renowned for using zero hour contracts and firing people every 3 months are getting the many staff they need, due to the high turnover, from the work programme where people have no choice – although through a confusing chain of companies.

This all means that claimants can be referred for sanction by people such as @DietQueen (the sanction happy tweeter in the photo) for not going to interviews, or taking jobs at Amazon, with no guarantee of hours or a ‘job’ longer than 3 months. Meanwhile the Work Programme ‘supply chain’ could be cashing in on the ‘job outcome’ of someone forced to work on a zero hour contract. At present Boycott Workfare cannot tell you how many people are being sanctioned or if anyone has been sent to Amazon on workfare, or elsewhere, as the government are currently refusing to make this information public.

Boycott Workfare would ask people not to target the person in question. Given the facts we would ask people to instead concentrate their anger at Amazon and Transline Group, or at anyone from this growing list of workfare providers.

Transline can be contacted on Twitter (@translinegroup), on Facebook or by phone: 01422 349423. Amazon can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@amazonuk).

Thank you to @robotincognito for the screen grabs and finding out the story!

Also, here’s a reminder of the DWP’s rules on zero hour contracts: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero hours contract vacancies
and they will not face sanctions for turning down the offer of a zero hours contract.”