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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.

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.

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Workfare health & safety problems at the British Heart Foundation

Posted: August 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Personal accounts | No Comments »
protesters outside bhf

Tell British Heart Foundation what you think of them using workfare!

Last year, the Minister for Employment boasted that he had reduced the 8-page Health and Safety guide for the “Work Experience” workfare scheme to one paragraph. Story after story shows that when people are made to work without pay for fear of losing benefits, companies and charities think they can get away with putting people at risk.

We were recently contacted by a mother concerned about her teenage son’s placement at British Heart Foundation. She told us:

About a month ago my son was placed on the Work Experience Scheme with a British Heart Foundation Furniture Store where he works 4 days a week.  I was surprised as I had read they didn’t take people unless they were happy to volunteer. I don’t believe these JSA claimants have much choice in the matter.

My main concern is one of Health and Safety. As far as I can work out the only thing my son is doing is moving furniture – anything from chairs to wardrobes. He is also moving these between floors. He hasn’t had any training in the proper moving and handling procedures. He is not in contact with members of the public or learning any retail skills like the cash handling. If he is unable to move furniture due to size he is either sent home or mills around… there seems to be no alternative work should this occur. The only benefit seems to be to British Heart Foundation who are monetarily rewarded. My son is now beginning to suffer shoulder problems. These young JSA claimants do not have the confidence or knowledge to challenge the work ethics of their placements.

This placement if for 8 weeks and he still has to be looking for work and its seems that if he stops going he will lose benefits. Work experience placements in school are monitored but it doesn’t appear that is the case with JSA work placements. I think other parents should be aware that Work Experience may not be experience at all.

British Heart Foundation have used workfare on a massive scale – at one point their website stated that they had 1500 placements at any one time. Following occupations and pickets across the UK, they announced they were “moving away” from workfare. But they are openly declaring on their website that they are still participating in the Work Programme – despite the fact that in December mandatory work placements on this scheme were extended, so that many sick and disabled claimants on Employment and Support Allowance can be forced to work for nothing, or face sanctions.

BHF state on their site: “Our supporters are welcome to contact us directly if they have any questions about our participation in the scheme. Please email customerservice@bhf.org.uk“. Don’t disappoint them, get in touch!

BHF Retail HQ – 01372 477 300
Head Office – 020 7554 0000
Customer Service Centre – 0300 330 3322
Facebook: BHF
Contact: http://www.bhf.org.uk/contact-us.aspx
Twitter:


‘They could refer me to it whenever they liked’

Posted: May 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 3 Comments »
Occupied Times infographic. information available in text form on know your rights page on our website.

Know your rights! Read more here.

Job Centre Advisors routinely ignore their own rules; the process for challenging bad decisions is sometimes so obscure and long-winded that someone’s time on a placement is served before they get far enough to have the decision overturned. This person’s story highlights what a deeply frustrating process this can be.

I was referred to Mandatory Work Activity in March 2013 by an adviser who, until the day I was referred, I had never met before. No adviser told me I was being considered for MWA, nor were any concerns about my job search raised, and the reason given was the period of time that I had been unemployed and needed work experience.

Having been referred I researched what MWA entailed and found that this adviser had failed to follow several of the guidelines set by the DWP for referral (failure to use the Customer Assessment Tool, the rule about the referral never coming as a surprise to a claimant and eligibility amongst other things) so made a phone call the next day to express my displeasure at this. I raised these concerns with the adviser who referred me, who fairly flippantly told me that they could refer me to it whenever they liked.
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My story of how I managed to get out of the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA)

Posted: November 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes, Personal accounts | Tags: | 1 Comment »

Standing up for your rights works! See this account from a young person who managed to avoid being sent on workfare, and learn your rights on donotsign.com and consent.me.uk.

Last March my job advisor told me that I’ve been mandated to work inside a charity shop called Scope for which I was expected to work 30 hours a week just to receive my Job Seekers Allowance. When I asked “Is it mandatory, that I have to do it?” my job advisor said “Yes.”

At first I believed what my job advisor told me until I found the Boycott Workfare website which had links to other websites like consent.me.uk which highlighted you shouldn’t be referred onto MWA if you’re already doing your own voluntary work, which I was.

When I next had my appointment to sign on and see my Job advisor I brought a copy along detailing that I shouldn’t be referred onto MWA if I’m already doing my own voluntary work. I explained to my job advisor that I shouldn’t have been referred onto MWA in the first place and showed evidence to back up what I was saying. From the conversation that followed between myself and my job advisor it was agreed that it wasn’t necessary for me to go onto the MWA.

Moral of the story? Don’t take their word for it – know your rights.


More reasons to take action this Saturday

Posted: September 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Comedian Mark Thomas has this week spoken out against the use of workfare by British Heart Foundation: “As someone who fundraises and supports BHF (L2B bike ride regular) it’s gutting to see them join an exploitative scheme like Workfare. BHF involvement in Workfare has undermined my trust and commitment to them as a campaigning group. I would ask BHF to reconsider. If they wish to keep their public status as a charity that is automatically thought well of by the public then they should cease their involvement with Workfare.”

One charity which has admitted to using workfare on a massive scale is British Heart Foundation. This week, comedian Mark Thomas has spoken out against their involvement. Below, Izzy Koksal blogs about a visit to her local store to speak to the people forced to work without pay. Want to take action? Saturday is the day to do it as people across the UK take on charity involvement in workfare.

Forget second hand furniture – the British Heart Foundation is the place to go if you want to understand the reality of workfare. I popped along to my local store this afternoon in the hope of speaking with someone about their experience of workfare. The policy director of the BHF had announced that every store had people on work placements from the government’s various schemes and so this seemed like a good place to start. Speaking with the manager, she looked around the room and counted those on Mandatory Work Activity, ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 today’ she informed me, adding ‘we do have pure volunteers as well’. I certainly had come to the right place to witness workfare at work. Three men were at the back of the room hammering at a wardrobe, a young woman was answering the phone and arranging for donations to be collected by the van, another woman was sticking price tags on sofas – all of these people were here because, as one of them put it, ‘there is no choice’, if they refused they would lose their benefits.
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Q: What do the Jubilee and Argos have in common? A: Workfare

Posted: June 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 11 Comments »
Argos: still exploiting people with workfare

Argos: still exploiting people with workfare. Photo: olishaw/flickr

Following the excellent blog post that revealed workfare at the Jubilee, today the Guardian exposed the full shocking story of the conditions faced by workfare stewards and security guards at the Queen’s Jubilee. Unfortunately this story would not be a surprise to those carrying out workfare at Argos.

Earlier this year, Argos admitted it was using forced unpaid work to cover its “busiest time of year”. Then under pressure from the public and media, Argos said it would suspend its involvement in workfare. However, we have been contacted by someone forced to work in an Argos store in the East of England whose story shows that Argos is back at it, and intent on getting as much free work from unemployed people as possible…

I just thought I’d tell you that I’m currently being forced to do mandatory work experience at Argos. They have three of us and we were doing 10 hours extra a week more than any member of staff at our level so they’re obviously doing it so they don’t have to give overtime to their current members of staff.

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A view from an ex-employee

Posted: March 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Personal accounts, Welfare to work industry | 1 Comment »

This testimony is by someone who used to work for one of the private companies which place people into workfare. The person didn’t want the company to be named since “this should not be a campaign against specific organisations, the whole thing is rotten and needs to be understood.” It provides an interesting insight into the attitudes and practices that are rife in the target-driven environments of these private companies.

As an ex-employee of a company that was delivering the government’s Flexible New Deal in 2010, I can verify that many questionable policies and procedures were taking place at the time I was working there.

The Flexible New Deal was the government strategy of forcing the long term unemployed (18 month+) back to work. An unenviable task, and the DWP contracts out the service to companies that out-bid each other to cut costs and corners wherever they can.

A worthy idea in many ways, it is good to have a specialised service whose aim is to encourage, coax and incentivise the long term unemployed back into the job market by training, re-skilling and confidence building for those who may have lost their way.

After a little while there however, I became increasingly uncomfortable with many of the practices that were endemic in the culture of the organisation.

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An Account: Day 1 of 6 months

Posted: February 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Personal accounts | Tags: | 3 Comments »

The government has another great workfare idea: Make everyone who has been on the Work Programme do six whole months of full-time forced unpaid labour. It introduced a pilot scheme for this idea, the bizarrely named “Community Action Programme”, which is being implemented by profit-making “Welfare to Work” companies. We hear from one unlucky person about the shambles that was the first day of their six month stint.

After being informed that I had won the “lottery” so to speak, I was duly summoned to attend a Community Action Programme “Welcome meeting” on this fine February morning. Determined not to be too sullen despite having been previously shall we say, a little under impressed by the so called assistance received through A4e 6 months prior, I tried to open my mind to the possibilities that may be offered by Pinnacle People, and knowing that I have little choice but to attend or lose my benefits, off I went.

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HMV misleading the public about workfare?

Posted: February 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 1 Comment »

HMV have today tweeted at us that “@boycottworkfare HMV is NOT & will not be participating in the #workfare scheme. We’re not aware of who the quoted mgr is but this is untrue”

We can however, publish a testimony of someone sent on the DWP Work Experience scheme at an HMV store – along with two others. This person was wise enough to leave her unpaid work placement after the first day. If she had stayed to the end of the week, under DWP rules she would have had her benefits stopped for doing so and been trapped into the placement for eight weeks.

This testimony shows that HMV was taking DWP Work Experience before Christmas. If they can show that they are no longer doing so, we will happily remove them from the list. But since they’re denying it happened in the first place, that makes things more difficult.

Why not help them out? Pop into your local HMV and ask staff if there are or have been any job centre Work Experience placements there. Then let us know what you find out.

Read this person’s testimony: Read the rest of this entry »


No jobs at the end of workfare

Posted: February 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 5 Comments »

This person’s experience on workfare placements from the Work Programme is typical:

I was forced onto a Work/Slave Placement for four months for Bookers Wholesale through Work Programme provider Prospects.

At the start I thought I would get a job at the end of it, how wrong I was. The manager said to me, “Work hard and we will employ you”. Another gentleman named James, who must have been in his 40s, was sent from Prospects about 6 weeks earlier than me so I could base on what happened to him at the end an idea of what would happen to me.

The first day was horrible. They sent me in the chill room to work with no fleece or gloves. Apparently there were none. I noticed the other staff not doing any hard jobs, making me do hard lifting. They were being paid and not doing as hard work as me. The more I saw this the more resentful I became.

When James left before me they didn’t offer him a job. I asked the manager about it and he said they would offer James a Saturday job if anything was available. “He is 40, not 14” I thought. James told me he asked them and they had said they would employ him. The turning point came when two brothers who worked there part-time were sacked for stealing some alcohol. I thought “job for me and James” but then I noticed they employed the brother of someone that worked there.

Prospects job hunts were disgusting, they treated us like children. James told me one of the women talked to him like he was 5 all because his bus was late. Being the bigger man he dismissed it, it’s amazing how someone could manage it.

Near the end Prospects told us to ask our slave masters about volunteering for one day a week. I asked the manager just to see what he would say. He said there are no jobs but you could continue as you are, like “You wont employ me but you will use me as slave labour??? “ I couldn’t be bothered to say anything, I just left in disgust.

The last week I had 2 days left out of my 5 to take off (James took none), I said to Prospects “I’m taking the days off”, they said “What if they are counting on you to be there?” I just laughed and said “If they are, then employ me!” They tried to force me to go, but I yelled “You’re supposed to find me a job not turn me in to a slave!!“