Number 10 are panicked that the public might realise that when people are made to work without pay, exploitation of the kind seen at the Queen’s Jubilee becomes not only possible but likely. They seek to assure us that this is a “one-off… isolated incident”.
Interesting then, that on one of its flagship workfare schemes, the “Work Experience” component of the Youth Contract, the Minister for Employment has boasted that he had reduced the 8-page Health and Safety guide to one paragraph.
Now, instead of having to complete a form which ensured that employers went through a process of affirming their responsibility to provide the correct safety equipment and considering any unique risks associated with having an untrained and unpaid worker on site, there is only a short statement to sign – as this Freedom of Information request reveals.
This despite the fact that people on workfare schemes have frequently highlighted the Health & Safety abuses possible when people are too scared to complain for fear of benefit sanction. One man, sent to work at Bookers Wholesale told us “They sent me in the chill room to work with no fleece or gloves.” Another woman explained: “When doing manual work I trod on a plank of wood and got a nail stuck in my foot. There was no supervisor available… 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.”
During similar schemes in the 1980s, eighty five young people were killed, often whilst undertaking responsibilities for which they had inadequate health & safety training. Let’s hope that the stories emerging from the unpaid stewards at the Jubilee mean we do not have to learn the hard way again.
Joanna Long, member of Boycott Workfare, has said: “Workfare is bad news for those whose jobs are threatened, but it is even worse news for those who have to carry out work with no pay. Employers know they have the upper hand and regularly threaten people’s safety. The Jubilee steward debacle is only the tip of the iceberg of exploiting the unemployed for free labour in the UK.”
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