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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.

Tescos: “Why would we pay you when we can pick up the phone and get more unemployed people who have to work for free?”

The following account was posted in the comments section of the Guardian website:
I personally know a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay. He said he was given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked “with pay”? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing of face sanctions meaning loss of ALL benefits for up to three years!

My friend wasn’t alone, he was part of twelve extra staff taken on to cover the xmas rush, no one was given a job at the end of the xmas period.

He told me they had all worked really hard and were gutted they were abused in such a way. The worst was one day he had to throw out lots of food one day over the use by date. He asked the manager if he could take some home as he was having to eat more due to being active all day. The manager refused saying if he gave him free food he wouldn’t come through the front door and buy it!

I swear I will never shop at Tesco ever again.

Asda sending paid staff home

Read one young person’s account of workfare at Asda over Christmas 2011 here.

Poundland exploitation

“Poundland takes on disabled people in a deal with Dwp via mickey mouse scheme. The claimant only works for 4 weeks including anti-social hours, stacking . The claimant is told at the beginning me the placement that there will be no job. My friend finished his placement and was immediately replaced at another disabled person. This is exploitation. ”

Primark and British Heart Foundation

“Karina” is 24 years old and lives in East London. She is a British citizen, originally from Bangladesh. She is currently looking for work and studying to improve her English. She worked without pay in a Primark store for nearly six months on a work placement in 2009, organised by the Jobcentre and the “provider” company administering the previous government’s Flexible New Deal programme.
How long were you claiming [unemployment benefit] before you had to volunteer at Primark?

Not long. March 2009 was my first claim. The placement was seven months after. [Before that] I was going to college [to learn English]. I paid £50 for it. Then when I went to the job centre they told me: “Now it’s the New Deal. You’re going to a placement”. I told them my English was not good but they said: “It doesn’t matter, you have to go. If you’re not going, we’ll stop your money.” They told me they would stop my JSA [Job Seekers Allowance] so I stopped my English course.

The first [placement] was with the British Heart Foundation. I worked from 9 or 9.30am to 4.30pm with a half hour break. I did everything. I went for one week and the manager was so rude. One day she ate something and left so much mess in the kitchen. Then she says to me: “Karina, you wash up.” The first time I didn’t say anything. I was scared they would stop my money.

When I went to [the New Deal provider company] I told the woman but she didn’t believe it. The clothes were dusty and I have an allergic problem so I went to the doctor and he wrote a letter. I gave the letters to [the New Deal provider] woman and she told me she found another placement for me at Primark.

The Jobcentre paid travel money but no lunch. I worked three days a week, 10am to 4.30pm or 5pm with one half hour break. [Primark] don’t pay any money. It was nearly six months, from January to June. When I finished the placement I took my CV and I asked the managers if they had any vacancies. They said: “Not yet – we’ll call you when we do.” I haven’t had a call.

What work did you do at Primark?

If some clothes were on the floor, I’d pick them up. In the children’s section I’d fold clothes, and [arrange] shoes and sandals sometimes. Sometimes I’d bring new clothes downstairs from the storeroom.

Is this the same kind of work that some paid staff do?

Yes, the same.

Were there other people volunteering too?

At Primark I knew one Pakistani woman and one Somali woman also on three days a week. When the placement finished other people came. Now I am looking for a job, but there are no jobs.

What do you think about these placements?

One thing is good and one thing is bad. Before, I had no experience and when I went there I learnt lots of things. Now, when I send my CV or get calls I have experience. But I was a volunteer for six months and wasn’t given a job or paid any money. They don’t pay lunch money, nothing.

What do you think should happen instead?

Pay money. Lunchtime money and money for work. When volunteer is finished, they should give the job.

Health and safety concerns

I wanted to give an account of my work placement, as this is forced on people who have no option but to do this or lose their benefit. This is the only source of income that I have (as is the situation with others on benefit). I am happy for this to be used as case study for health and safety procedure. Names have been changed.

My placement was for a month at the place that I worked. I worked for 30 hours a week (I was paid via Flexible New Deal at £67.50 a week, that translates to being paid £2.19 an hour). The work was physical. Looking for work when physically exhausted was hard and often too difficult to do. I did work for a charity and the land I worked was I think owned by the charity.

Some health and safety procedures were explained by the person supervising me on the placement (Marion). Kat (Flexible New Deal provider supervisor) asked if I had work boots, which I said I didn’t, but that I had some regular boots.

I wore these boots, which had been ok-ed by Kat. When doing manual work I trod on a plank of wood and got a nail stuck in my foot. There was no supervisor available, and I was working away from the main site. I stayed to the end of the day and treated it when I got home. I felt unable to say anything about health and safety due to my fear of losing benefits.

No one from the Flexible New Deal provider supervised whilst I was there.

Before I went on the placement I did tell the Job Centre I was going on placement.

When explaining how the placement operates the Job Centre was confused whilst signing back on to Job Seekers Allowance. This was not the reason that my benefits were delayed, as it was explained to me by the Housing Benefit staff. I signed an agreement with the Job Centre tell them if I was doing any work paid or unpaid. This could be why they were confused about the system (which has been in place for over a year). My housing benefit was delayed by about 3-5 days whilst going onto the placement and then after when going off the placement, (so was delayed in two months) my Job Seekers Allowance was not affected.

No job at the end of Bookers Wholesale placement

Read one man’s account here.

More stories

The following personal accounts were collated by the grumpyhatlady blog. They are reproduced here on the condition that they do not result in any negative attention.

Anne S. from Billericay:
“I worked in admin since leaving college. It’s all I’ve ever done and to be honest, it’s what I’m good at, it’s all I want to do. I lost my job at an estate agents in the recession and had to go on Jobseekers. I was asked what jobs I was looking for and I told them admin, secretarial and personal assistant work. What I’m qualified and experienced in. They sent me to work for a supermarket for four weeks. I had no choice or I’d lose my money. I finished it last week and was told there was no job at the end as I didn’t have enough “retail experience”. What was the fucking point of that? ”

Sadly, Anne’s is not an isolated case. She told of someone else who was on placement:
“There was a lad who was a single dad. He had two beautiful kids both at school. He was desperate to work and had worked for the same supermarket company before his wife left him and the kids. He thought that the work experience would be a way to get back into work with the company now the kids were back at school…They put him on shifts outside of school hours and he didn’t have anyone to look after the kids. When he tried to talk to the shift manager about it, he was told he had to work the hours they said or they’d report him for non-compliance and he’d lose all his benefits and his house.”

Edwin from Glasgow told me of his experience during a “work placement” phase:
“I was told that I was still expected to look for work during my full time placement. The placement gaffer wouldn’t let me go offsite during my lunch hour to look for work. He was a right hard bastard, task master type. When I complained about the placement he told me to shut up, that I was paid a reasonable wage and he tried to add up all the benefits I was getting to prove it. Thing is I don’t get Housing Benefit as I bought my house just before I my company went bust. He said this justified my £65 working a 30 hour week. I had repayment insurance but it ran out after a year, so now I’m living in hope of finding a job or a rich wife. Then the bru started to hammer me with all these interviews and threats. I apply for at least 10 jobs a week, including minimum wage jobs. I’m no proud. I paid tax all my life and I’m getting nothing but aggro in return and now I might lose my house too. These are very dark times”

Jaz from the West Midlands described her work placement:
“I was given a fancy title but all it meant was running around with a mop clearing up spilled jam, alcohol and urine. I was told by other regular staff, these jobs were for ‘retards’. My brother has Downs and I wouldn’t let him work with these people. They were rude, bullying, condescending and in the majority. Having a first class degree in Marketing I thought this would be a chance to get my foot in the door and I was excited at the prospect of working with such a large company. On day 1 I took my CV by day 3 it was still on the staff room table for anyone to look at. I was told I’d have to apply for vacancies online like everyone else and that I’d get no special treatment because of my placement.”

Stories in the news

The Guardian with people’s stories of placements at Tescos and Poundland.

Corporate watch with stories from Tescos and Holland & Barrett.

Corporate Watch exposes Matalan, Savers and Newham Council amongst others.

The Guardian with people’s stories of placements at Maplin and Waterstones (Waterstones now no longer accept placements)

Please share your stories

It really helps to show why workfare is so wrong to share real people’s stories.

Please contact us in confidence if you have a story about workfare placements to share.