The ConDem government’s workfare scheme has come under fire in the last few weeks, with a national debate sparked by protests. Mainstream media finally picked up the story after a small group of activists, from the Right to Work campaign, were forcibly removed from a Tesco store near the Houses of Parliament.
The Department of Work and Pensions scheme is part of the government’s benefits overhaul, with the apparent intention of “getting people back to work”. The ‘work experience scheme’ sees jobseekers employed in unpaid, temporary positions in exchange for their benefits. Essentially it means that those on benefits are forced to work for free for a company or have their benefits stopped.
The website run by campaign group ‘Boycott Workfare’ states: “Those who need welfare are forced into unpaid work for multi-million pound companies. Instead of a living wage, they receive only JSA – a tiny £53 a week for the under-25s – far below minimum wage. As a result of this, workfare means those in paid positions may see their jobs replaced by this unpaid labour. Why would a company pay for people to do these jobs when they can get free labour from the Job Centre?”
But the campaign against the scheme is gaining momentum, protests are spreading, and Saturday 3rd March saw a ‘day of action’ with protests across the country. Over a dozen high street companies have now suspended their part in the scheme as a result of pressure from campaigners. This includes Tesco, Argos, Superdrug, Waterstone’s and Sainsbury’s.
This issue is clearly something that we need to oppose, as most decent, right-thinking people would agree. This isn’t about opposing the ideologically driven programme of cuts by the government, but about the basic rights of workers and the unemployed. It would seem that major companies continue to benefit at the expense of people who are unfortunate enough to join the growing number on the dole queue.
Targeted and organised protest actions, such as those seen in Tesco and those carried out by groups such as UK Uncut, can put pressure on companies involved in this exploitation. They can also raise people’s attention by pushing this issue into the media, as we have already seen. To say we can defeat the cuts seems like a very unrealistic dream, but we can influence the path of the government and those companies involved in this case. We can stand up for rights of the workers and unemployed and results are already being achieved.
To find out more about workfare and the growing campaign against it, visit boycottworkfare.org