It turns out 750 hours with no payroll costs – the figure for just one week in just one of Homebase’s 342 stores – does have a massive impact on the paid work available. Apparently it’s an effect that is popular with the regional manager, who we’ve heard has been trying to get all Homebase stores in her region to use workfare, and has been suspending or moving managers who don’t.
Homebase have been quick to claim that the scheme is voluntary, but our source told us that workfare workers have all been told “work for free or lose your benefits”. As Boycott Workfare have exposed, even on paper the Work Experience scheme is only voluntary if you say ‘yes’, since it is backed with the threat of Mandatory Work Activity which carries up to three year sanctions.
Haringey Homebase is not advertising for workers and we’ve heard that managers have been instructed to tell people on workfare that there are no jobs for them. This, despite the fact that last year the boss of Home Retail Group – who also own workfare exploiters Argos – was paid £1.1 million.
The public response to this story has been immense with hundreds of comments on Homebase’s Facebook page deleted, and the company taking it offline at times. But it hasn’t yet been enough. In a week where people claiming benefit have been smeared by the Chancellor, the fact of the matter is that it’s not people on benefits who are scrounging off the taxpayer, it’s businesses. We need to show Homebase that they can’t get away with workfare exploitation and we won’t go away until everyone working in their stores is paid.
Oh, and if you were ever tempted to think this is a one-off mistake, this is what someone else told us this week: “a friend of mine who was working 40 hours per week at Argos has just had his hours cut by half because they have been getting workfare in. Now he can’t afford his rent.”
Feel free to contact Argos, Homebase’s sister company, too.