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.
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.
A week passed before I received a letter in the mail from the workfare provider, who despite all of my previous work experience coming in administrative/office positions, saw fit to refer me to four weeks at a Cancer Research UK shop. When I arrived at the shop the following Monday to start my placement, the people working there seemed to know as much about my placement as I did (i.e. nothing) and were obviously massively overstaffed and sent me home after two hours. To date I am yet to complete a six-hour day there.
I sent a lengthy written complaint to the Jobcentre, outlining my grievances and asking for the documents they held on me and my referral to be sent to me (something I had already done over the phone), and was given a meeting with the building manager. The meeting was unproductive; the building manager entirely supported the referral, told me that my dispute was based on technicalities (that technicality being the failure of the adviser to use a tool that determines a claimant’s eligibility for the programme) and that it “wasn’t difficult” to find employment in my line of work and that if I had been carrying out my job search properly I wouldn’t still be unemployed. I found him to be generally quite rude and condescending (e.g. rhetorically asking if I was going to complain “when you’re referred to Work Programme”) and seriously resented the thinly-veiled implication that my unemployment was my own fault. I’ve worked in customer service and HR positions, and probably would’ve been severely reprimanded or sacked if I had acted in the same way as the Jobcentre employees I’ve dealt with.
I’m currently in the process of referring my complaint to the Director General of Operations at the DWP, as per their website, as well as wasting my time folding clothes at Cancer Research UK. I still haven’t received the documents I asked them for three weeks ago.
The government must now reveal the list of workfare exploiters, which it fears mean the schemes will ‘collapse’. But it praised Salvation Army for ‘holding the line’. [Photo: Sinister Pics]
Some great news: The government has lost its appeal and must reveal the organisations that have used Mandatory Work Activity, Work Experience, and Work Programme placements. That means we’re going to be able to show those organisations what we think of them profiting from free labour!
The evidence the government submitted reveals what a huge impact your actions have had. They argued:
“The activities of campaign groups and the results of negative publicity meant that… “a great many placement organisations” had ceased to offer placements. That in turn reduced the numbers of opportunities available across both programmes with a loss of many placements and prospective new placements being at risk.” (Point 109)
This adds to the evidence that emerged earlier in the week that numbers of people on “Government employment schemes” (read ‘workfare’) have dropped by 16,000 this quarter. We also heard that Seetec were complaining at an industry conference last week how difficult it is to find placements nowadays because employers are worried about protest. The DWP’s appeal revealed that one subcontractor has complained about a loss of 100 placements per week in its area alone (point 93).
That is your actions – whether building pressure online, spreading the word, withholding donations, boycotting shops, joining a picket or staging an occupation – helping push back forced unpaid work in the UK.
The government feared that “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”. Let’s do our best to make sure it does! Keep your eyes peeled for the release of the names and get ready to step up the pressure on those profiting from forced labour.
Special congratulations go to Frank Zola for pursuing this to the Information Tribunal. The full decision can be enjoyed here. (Of particular note are points 28, 29, 67, 70-75, 93, 94, 96, 99, 100, 103, 109, 127, 133, 176, 196)
Since the Salvation Army gets a special mention from the DWP for ‘holding the line’ (point 196), you may like to take this opportunity to remind them why this position is just so inconsistent with their Christian values. The Salvation Army UK can be contacted on facebook, by phone (020 7367 4500), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). More background on their involvement and contact details can be found here, or you can tweet at them: Tweet to @salvationarmyuk
GovKnow’s Employment, Apprenticeships & Skills conference was about using welfare reforms to create incentives to work. It aimed to show employers where to look for cheap, compliant and mandated workers and to show educators and recovery organisations how to create those workers. It showed all those attending how to rebrand unpaid work as training, learning and recovery.
One protester spoke for five minutes until Mark Hoban had to leave the room; she was then evicted. When Hoban returned to the stage, another protester took up where she had left off. As he was evicted another one popped up again!
This is not the first time that industry conferences have been challenged. Others have been invaded, relocated and disrupted too. These events are all about the money to be made out of unemployment and out of the unemployed. It’s clear there’s no money to be made by the unemployed in the form of employment.
Three protesters were evicted from the conference this morning for disrupting Hoban’s speech. Challenged on his profit at expense of taxpayer while robbing the poorest, he had to leave the room. Video to follow! Tweet #employ2013 @GovKnow
Employment, Apprenticeships & Skills Conference 2013 16th May 2013
This conference is about the use of welfare reform to create incentives to work. The conference planning committee has already ruled out the option of well paid work.
Instead, the focus is on stepping up efforts to force people to work longer, harder, with greater insecurity and fewer rights, for very much less money.
The conference is also about ‘creating employees that business needs’ – in other words compliant, frightened, non unionised, isolated, grateful, desperate, aspirational, eager to please and above all, endlessly cheerful, positive and upbeat workers – no matter how exploited.
You can find details of the agenda here. Special highlights include:
how to pay low wages and still get highly skilled workers
government incentives for taking on those who are too sick to work
finding disabled people who are especially willing to work for nothing
diversity pays! Watch your wage bill plummet as disadvantaged groups clamour for zero hour contracts
focus on recovery: people who are hungry and homeless are a real bargain
Free postage donated by Salvation Army, ink donated by Barclays – Priceless. (Photo & caption courtesy of @cliffjamester)
Have you seen the Million Freepost Letter Project yet? If not check it out!
Its purpose is clear: “This is a Anti-Workfare page set up to use all legal means to stop organisations using the unemployed for free labour, these unscrupulous organisations understand one thing only, and that is profit, so that is where I aim to encourage people to target.”
Its method is simple: Write your complaint about workfare to an organisation’s freepost address, thus costing the organisation money as well.
The fantastic and v. useful infographic that Occupied Times have put together, working with Boycott Workfare. Click on it to see it full size!
There are different rules for each of the workfare schemes, and the job centre and work programme don’t seem too bothered about following them, so it’s important to know your rights! We hear stories every week of people who have managed to avoid workfare by asserting their rights. This great new infographic, put together by Occupied Times (who also published this article about Boycott Workfare), is a very useful summary of some of our key rights. For more detail, check out this page too.
Please help spread the word! Pass the infographic onto people you know who are signing on, or download and print leaflets (with the infographic formatted for A4) to give out at your local library, work programme provider or job centre. (We can help with printing costs – so let us know if that would help!)
We are extremely disappointed that PCS leadership have decided not to allow debate at their conference on two motions which called for the union to move from theoretical to practical unity with claimants in challenging sanctions.
Current welfare policies and reforms represent an unprecedented attack on claimants and on the welfare state itself. Conditionality, workfare and the huge rise in sanctions are driving claimants further into poverty and destitution. At the same time a vicious campaign of hatred driven by the media and political classes has stigmatised those on benefits and poisoned public debate. Read the rest of this entry »
Aktive Arbeitslose challenge sanctions and share mutual support with unemployed people in Austria.
Boycott Workfare is proud to be taking part this week in a conference in Vienna, hosted by the Austrian group ‘Aktive Arbeitslose‘. As well as an exciting chance to share ideas, tactics and experiences across borders, it’s also an opportunity to look more deeply at the EU and its involvement in workfare. What we found is revealing but perhaps unsurprising.
As high unemployment, austerity, and cuts ravage Europe, and millions of people are plunged into poverty, the workfare industry continues to promote poverty and a europe-wide race to the bottom. But people across Europe are refusing to run that race.
Wondering what this has got to do with EU? Follow the money: In 2010 A4e alone had already received £60 million from the European Social Fund (ESF).
Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. Now people on workfare are being forced to work unpaid on their estates.
This report from Haringey Solidarity Group highlights the problem of workfare being used to fill the gaps left by local authority cuts. If you’re in London, join the protest today! If not, please support the local campaign by raising your concerns with the council.
Homes for Haringey is the borough’s arms-length management organisation, set up to manage council housing. Tenants on their estates have found out that local unemployed people are being forced to work on their estates for no pay and with no workplace rights.
Groundwork, a national registered charity working in partnership with Haringey Council, has been using the Government’s workfare schemes – in which unemployed people are forced to work with no pay or workplace rights – to maintain some Homes For Haringey estate gardens.
The last time we picketed the Homes for Haringey office, they issued a statement attempting to deny their involvement in replacing paid jobs. But tenants on Broadwater Farm Estate have seen people on the Groundwork scheme cutting hedges and doing other grounds maintenance work, work that was previousy done by paid council staff. Job Seekers have also been sanctioned for refusing to work for no pay under the Groundwork workfare scheme, losing all entitlement to benefits for several weeks. Read the rest of this entry »