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.
As a gloomy year comes to an end, we’re glad we can offer a ray of seasonal cheer with this tale of holiday workfare averted at the Colchester branch of Debenhams.
At the beginning of October we received tip-offs that eight-week workfare placements were under consideration at the Debenhams Colchester branch, organised with the local job centre. These would take place over the Christmas peak period as job centre ‘work experience’.
Argos: boasted about using workfare at its ‘busiest times’ but now appears to have pulled out of workfare. Photo: olishaw/flickr
In yet another massive blow to workfare, Argos – which has 740 stores nationwide – appears to have pulled out of workfare. Argos had previously boasted that it was using workfare to cover its busiest period at Christmas. In at least one store, workfare workers were doing ten hours a week more than paid staff. That they have now pulled out is a testament to the strength of feeling amongst the general public and shows the results we can get when we keep up the pressure!
It gets better. Remember how Homebase were exposed for using 25 workfare placements in one store and boasting about it? How we heard some people’s paid hours were cut from 48 a week down to 8 as a result? They faced such a huge response from the public that they took their Facebook Page down repeatedly. People protested at their stores across the UK. Now, they too, have apparently stopped using workfare. Their statement is full of doublespeak, but people protesting during the bank holiday at the store where the story emerged were told by the manager that the last workfare workers finished on Friday and they won’t be using any more.
These companies were saving thousands on their wages bill by exploiting the unemployed. This, despite the fact that the CEO of Home Retail Group – which owns Argos and Homebase – was paid £1.1 million last year. They didn’t ditch workfare out of the goodness of their hearts: it’s clear that your actions are making a massive difference, taking two big scalps! Please keep an eye on your local stores to check they don’t slip back into workfare when the pressure eases off. Read the rest of this entry »
Pizza Hut’s restaurants faced protests across the UK about its involvement. Photo: Howard Jones
More evidence has emerged revealing the people who are really profiting from workfare. The Guardian exposed that Conservative Party donors have benefited from £73 million in “welfare to work” contracts, including a scheme which awarded an £800 bonus for every workfare placement organised. Embarrassingly, one of those implicated is the Director of Iain Duncan Smith’s ironically named “Centre for Social Justice”. But we know that Labour are at it as well. More on this soon.
Eager to cash in, Bournemouth College have been caught advertising people on the Work Programme to businesses on ‘a try before you buy’ basis. Local activists raised the alarm, and the College has since changed this offensive sales pitch on their website, but not before the original advert was saved in all its glory here.
You know workfare is in trouble when right wing industry think-tank CESI has admitted “It could prove to be a very expensive failure if it doesn’t get people into jobs.” This is in light of recent DWP research showing that Mandatory Work Activity has “zero effect” on helping people find work.
Leeds Unemployed Action Group exposed the workfare providers in their area
Another hugely successful and diverse week of action across the UK, saw actions in over twenty locations across the UK, hundreds of people step up the pressure with phone calls and online action, and even an Early Day Motion tabled in Parliament.
Holland & Barrett pulled out of workfare the day before its stores were to see more protests across the UK. The week ended as it began with yet another big high street name wavering in its use of workfare. Savers have said that they will use the people currently doing workfare until their placements expire, but it will not be taking on any new workfare workers, until it has spoken to ministers about concerns that if people refuse to they will have their benefits stopped.
A national campaign against Holland & Barrett was called by Sol Fed
Before it even starts, the Week of Action has had a major success: Holland & Barrett who have been using workfare on a huge scale (1100 placements a year amongst a workforce of 3500) have said that “the 60 people currently undertaking the work experience scheme will be the last to complete the eight week placement. After this time Holland & Barrett will not participate further in that scheme.”
Unable to acknowledge people’s ethical concerns about them using an unpaid workforce on a massive scale, they have made the hilarious claim that the decision is due to the threat to customer and staff safety from our peaceful protests planned this weekend! These follow regular pickets called by Sol Fed who co-ordinated a national campaign against the company’s involvement in workfare.
But Holland & Barrett aren’t totally off the hook yet. They continue to use the current 60 workfare placements until these finish. Their announcement indicates that they intend to replace workfare with apprentices, which would allow them to pay a wage of just £2.60 an hour, far below the living wage.
Nevertheless, their announcement shows that our protests can push back workfare in the UK. Holland & Barrett is just one of hundreds of businesses, public sector employers and charities profiting from replacing paid work with workfare. Protests will continue this week to target other brands still involved. These include British Heart Foundation, who have boasted that they have at least one workfare placement in every store, Argos, Superdrug, ShoeZone, Asda, Tescos, Wilkinsons, The Works, the list goes on.
On 1st June, Body Shop announced it would no longer participate in workfare
On Monday, Boycott Workfare members discovered Body Shop was taking multiple workfare workers on their local high street, while according to the manager “larger stores take more”. A few days later and Body Shop have announced the following on Facebook:
It’s not The Body Shop policy to support Workfare, but a few isolated incidents of store participation has come to light this week. The stores will be brought back in line with our national approach shortly and there will be no further participation from The Body Shop.
This is great news for those compelled to work without pay in their stores. Now let’s make sure we hold them to it! If you have five minutes to pop into your local store this week and check that they are not taking “work placements” from the job centre or your local work programme providers, please do. (Then let us know!)
In just a couple of hours going door to door on one High Street we named and shamed Body Shop, Shoe Zone and Dorothy Perkins. Online action by campaigners increased the pressure on Body Shop. You can help stop workfare by doing the same on your high street and online. See our top tips for high street sleuthing here!
Pizza Hut, Oxford Street - blockaded twice on 3rd March. Photo: Howard Jones
Milton Keynes: “The public response was really positive, which highlights the governments ignorance to public opinion about these workfare schemes. We had McDonalds staff on our side as they are concerned about losing their jobs to unpaid staff. Great protest!”
Southampton: “About 20 people attended and we had a lively protest outside Primark with placards and leaflets and plenty of noise on the megaphone. We moved on to Topshop. Here the manager came out and showed us a document saying they had withdrawn from the scheme. We told him that we would give him the benefit of the doubt but that we could come back. What it does show is that the protests are effective and stores are actually worried about the impact on their sales.”
Boycott Workfare are pleased to announce that HMV have sent us the following statement:
“HMV has no national agreement in place with the Government’s work experience programmes, although individual stores have previously had some leeway in responding to local requests. However, in light of recently expressed concerns regarding particular aspects of these schemes HMV has, following a review, decided that its stores will no longer participate on this basis in future.
Positive news as Poundland announced that they have suspended their involvement in one workfare scheme. But if 99p stores can pull out of workfare, then why is it Poundland have only suspended involvement in one and remain involved in another? Could it be that those organisations who have only ‘suspended’ their involvement with workfare, are finding it hard to give up the prospects of a 2.7 million plus unemployed pool of forced unpaid labour to tap into? If workfare providers think that by suspending their involvement they can sneak workfare back into there stores they should think again…… Read the rest of this entry »
Another amazing day for the campaign. It’s reported that ministers will hold “crisis talks” with Tesco this week to try and keep them on board what looks increasingly like a sinking ship. Maplin has tweeted that it will join the list of retailers to pull out of the government’s forced unpaid labour schemes.
Oxfam has confirmed to us verbally that it will not accept workfare in any of its forms. This is particularly good news for one person on our Facebook page who was due to start Mandatory Work Activity with them next week! The fact that they already had policy against it highlights how slyly workfare is being pushed by the government and their workfare profiteers, as well as how slowly the third sector more widely has been to respond to this attack on volunteering. The fact that placements are often organised by local shops rather than at a national level is no excuse, and it is great to see Oxfam taking action to make sure all of their stores stick to its policy. We look forward to seeing their public statement.
Boots, Pizza Hut and HMV should take a leaf out of their book. They are all telling people that they do not arrange workfare centrally, and refusing to take responsibility for what happens in their local stores. It’s clear they’re still willing to see people forced to work unpaid in their stores. Keep up the pressure and we reckon we can persuade them otherwise!
In the meantime, Age UK are investigating their use of workfare, and Poundland has its policy under review.