After a summit of panicked business leaders worried about becoming the next focus for protest over their participation in government back slave-labour workfare schemes, the government announced it had dropped threats to stop benefits if people pulled out part way through their ‘work experience’ scheme.
This is another nail in the coffin of workfare, but unfortunately ‘work experience’ is only one scheme amongst a number. In many of the other workfare schemes the threat of sanctions has yet to be removed.
Just hours later, however, Boots announced its withdrawal from another one of the government’s ‘workfare’ schemes, the compulsory ‘work programme’. This shows the very real fear now held by these multimillion pound companies that they will become the next target of protest against the slave labour schemes. Pressure is now mounting on the government to drop the scheme all together.
The past few weeks have seen a number of companies pull out of or suspend/review their involvement with these schemes as the protests organised by Youth Fight for Jobs and others have panicked them. HMV and Burger King have announced they are dropping out in the last week, with Boots joining them even after the government made its announcement. The effect of all this is to show these schemes up for the shambles they really are.
However, despite the government now making concessions to make these schemes more palatable, the schemes still involve unpaid ‘slave labour’ and continue to threaten the terms and conditions of existing staff. The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own document on the Work Programme had a paragraph mysteriously removed which stressed that work placements should be mandatory to avoid National Minimum Wage obligations.
The Guardian also featured quotes from the DWP’s social security advisory committee in an article on Friday 24th February. These stated that "Many retail jobs required staff to work for 16 hours each week, with overtime payable for any hours worked beyond that. Work experience allowed for 25 hours work activity so overtime to permanent staff was being reduced or removed," and that "There was also evidence to suggest that work experience placements were being taken on to cover Christmas vacancies."
In YFJ we support the retail workers’ union USDAW’s call for the removal of any compulsion from the schemes and for participants to given the same terms, pay and conditions of existing staff. We would add that there should be guaranteed jobs at the end and that those on the placements should be able to join the staff union. As well as work within the trade union movement we need to continue an active campaign of supporting protests outside stores, aiming to build a mass campaign to end workfare and fight for decent, well-paid, permanent jobs for all.
Getting People Back Into Work
The main argument that the government has attempted to marshal in their defence is that this is the only way young people can gain experience of working for their CV to make themselves employable. But this belies the real issue of why young people can’t find work. The reality is that, with only around half a million vacancies and over two and a half million unemployed, capitalism simply isn’t creating enough jobs for people.
Whilst the government has been claiming a 50% success rate for the scheme, in reality this is the number of people who are not claiming JSA by the end of 13 weeks, which could be for a multitude of reasons including going into education or even dropping out entirely. Looking at figures presented by companies they are far below the government’s 50% claim, Tesco gave jobs to 300 out of 1400 participants, 21%, Holland and Barrett gave jobs to 50 out of 250 participants, 20%, and the Greggs gave jobs to 14 out of 40 participants, 35%.
Rather than creating jobs, the government is effectively subsidising these companies, both in terms of giving them some free workers for 4 or 8 weeks at a time, but also subsidising the training of their workforce. The question must repeatedly be asked, if capitalism as a system is so great and able to provide a wonderful world for all as its advocates suggest, then why can’t they provide a job for everyone with the necessary training and experience provided on the job?
The Socialist Alternative
Instead of further bailouts for the 1%, the Socialist Party and Youth Fight for Jobs argue for a programme of job creation. Why not tackle both the huge housing shortages and soaring rents by implementing a crash council house building programme? Why not cancel the exorbitant PFI contracts and use the resulting money to hire and train up more doctors and nurses to stop the closures of A&E wards? Why not collect the £120bn in unpaid taxes by the super rich and use the money to reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance and scrap tuition fees?
But Grayling, IDS, Clegg and the other defenders of these schemes put the interests of the banks, big business and profits of their class before the needs of the 99%. Instead of their failed system we need one where resources are publicly owned and production is planned democratically in order to meet the needs of majority, not the greed of the tiny minority. We need to take the wealth off the 1%. Instead of crumbling capitalism, we need socialism.