Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Say No to Workfare: a TUC Charter on Work Experience (with comments at the end)

with 4 comments

Say no to workfare: a TUC Charter on work experience.

This Charter explains why unions are opposed to workfare and looks at what makes the difference between good and bad work experience programmes for unemployed people.

It has been written for everyone campaigning for jobs and fair treatment for unemployed people.

Workfare Unions believe that workfare is a failed policy.

 It exploits the people who take part by paying them much less than the minimum wage.

It is unfair to other workers because it threatens their jobs and pay rates.

It is unfair to other businesses if their competitors are being subsidised by the government in this way. And it does not work – unemployed people working full-time on a workfare scheme do not have time to get training to look for a real job.

The Government’s own research (link to research) has revealed that workfare in other countries made unemployed people less likely to get off the dole and was particularly ineffective when unemployment was high. 

Workfare  is often presented as ‘the answer’ to long-term unemployment, but the government research found that people with extra barriers to work (who are most likely to become long-term unemployed) are the least likely to get proper jobs through workfare.

All workers are threatened by workfare but the poorest and weakest are threatened most because it is at the bottom end of the labour market that workers in real jobs are most likely to find themselves in competition with those on workfare, as the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow has pointed out.

What’s wrong with the government’s employment policies?

Too many employment programmes assume that unemployed people are either a problem to be solved or are guilty of causing their own unemployment. These programmes presume that unemployed people have a ‘motivation problem’ and that the answer is make unemployment even more unattractive than it already is – the same attitude that inspired the workhouse.

In fact, unemployed workers have worse health than other people, are less happy, more depressed, more stressed and more likely to commit suicide. People who are unemployed are poorer, more likely to be the victims of crime, more likely to have family problems and their children are less likely to do well at school. Most unemployed people are already strongly motivated to get jobs.

Unemployed people need jobs but there are more than five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy.

Unemployed people did not cause the recession and the rise in unemployment that followed; they aren’t responsible for the policy of austerity that is prolonging mass unemployment. They aren’t criminals, they are the victims in this story.

 Bad work experience policies

Many government programmes for unemployed people and some other benefit claimants involve ‘work experience’ – which may not be substituting for the work of other workers but still has all the other characteristics of a job.

Unions are especially concerned about abuse of work experience where unemployed people are required to do a few days’ work for no pay, with no training and no expectation of an interview, let alone a job offer. When this happens, we strongly suspect that unemployed people are just being used to provide unpaid labour and it is very unlikely that it does anything to help them get real jobs.

 We are also particularly opposed to work experience that is imposed as a ‘penalty’ for becoming long-term unemployed. There is no evidence that it helps long-term unemployed people to get jobs; employers are not impressed by experience of this sort of scheme on an applicant’s CV.

 Earlier this year campaigns by unions and unemployed people and concerns raised by employers forced the government to concede that participation in the ‘Work Experience’ programme (which accounts for half the places in the Youth Contract) should be entirely voluntary.

There is now some early evidence that this programme improve the employment opportunities of some jobless young people, but significant concerns remain about the misuse of the programme by some employers and it is still too early to tell how useful the programme will be in the longer-term.

 But work experience is not always a bad idea for unemployed people who are finding it hard to get a job. Since 1989, a scheme known as Work Trials has been available for people who have difficulties getting jobs (such as lone parents, long-term unemployed and disabled people).

Work Trials are voluntary, there is no penalty for deciding not to take up the job and they must be in a real vacancy with the expectation that the participant will get the job if everything works out. The idea is that the participants test whether a particular job is suitable for them and have an opportunity to overcome any misconceptions or concerns that the employer may have.

One of the key characteristics of Work Trials is that they are voluntary and there is good evidence that Work Trials have made a difference to employment opportunities for people who would otherwise find it difficult to get jobs and that people who had taken part thought their Work Trial had given them an advantage in getting a job.

 The TUC believes that voluntary participation in employment programmes should be the norm.

Voluntary participation means that participants are likely to be motivated to get the most out of a scheme. Even more important, voluntary participation is the best quality control possible – low quality schemes will struggle to recruit participants, but experience suggests that once a programme has a record of getting people into jobs there is no shortage of people keen to take part.

Unions can help promote improved standards by negotiating for enhancements to work experience in unionised workplaces.

At the Royal Mail, for instance, the CWU have negotiated a Royal Mail Work Experience Programme that builds on the original government initiative that offers: 80 places on a scheme that lasts 4 weeks, with each participant working 25 – 30 hours a week. (NOTE by Ipswich Unemployed Action  – critics allege that this will be unpaid by the Royal Mail)  

Voluntary participation.

An agreed pay scale – the same as that paid to casual and agency workers. Both parties working on any future issues on remuneration and benefits. A scheme designed solely to help young unemployed people back into work and will not be at the expense of paid jobs or additional earning opportunities for existing employees.

A commitment to equalities and diversity.

An in principle commitment to a job offer on completion of the programme. The TUC is happy to advise unions on model agreements based on best practice examples. The sections on protecting the jobs, pay and conditions of existing workers are important.

No matter how good a scheme, job creation has risks as well as benefits: when incentives are offered to employers, there is always a risk that they may cut other jobs or reduce overtime to take advantage of the subsidy. Job creation schemes, especially those that involve private sector employers, need to be monitored to avoid this ‘displacement’ as it is known.

The TUC believes that the most effective way to do this is by involving trade unions in negotiating the company’s participation and then in monitoring it.

The more that job creation takes place in unionised, well-organised workplaces, the higher the quality is likely to be.

A better way.

Of course more broadly the government must accept its responsibility to create jobs.

The TUC campaigns for a Job Guarantee that offers a job to everyone who has been unemployed for six months or more. Unions strongly supported the last government’s Job Guarantee scheme (the Future Jobs Fund), which offered a real job, paid at least the minimum wage, to young people who had been unemployed for at least six months.

We believe that the current government made a serious error when it abolished this programme and would strongly support a new job guarantee scheme.

The Government also needs to recognise that Jobcentre staff are far better placed than those from private welfare to work firms to support unemployed people who are looking for work.

And we know the best answer to unemployment is a growing economy, creating the jobs unemployed workers desperately want. And that means that the government must accept that austerity is choking growth.

Although there has been a great deal of public concern about workfare and work experience schemes these terms are not always used in a clear way.

In this Charter:

‘Workfare’ means making unemployed people or other benefit claimants do unpaid work in jobs that would normally be done by paid workers. ‘

Work experience’ means other work done as part of a government employment scheme.

It does not mean placements undertaken by school or university students as part of their course or by school students as part of their preparation for life after school. Nor does it cover informal arrangements made by employers and individuals.

We do not discuss internships or other unpaid work that can be an entry to a career – this is an important issue in its own right and the TUC has set up a Rights for Interns website (Link to Website: Here) to provide advice and information.

 ‘Contracting-out’ means contracting with private or voluntary sector organisations to provide services previously provided by the public sector.

The TUC has published an information note about Government Employment Programmes that describes these schemes: Here.


The TUC advances some good principles and ideas. But it does not tackle a root problem: the involvement of the ‘Unemployment Business’ of companies like A4E, SEETEC, Working Links and Ingeus. these have not only siphoned off public money and created some very rich people, and influenced government policy (since the time of Labour’s David Blunkett). They are a source of major concern about the conditions under which the unemployment are treated, and are the object of serious allegations of frauad, bullying and mismanagement.

We would also like to see the TUC actively campaiging against Workfare.


4 Responses

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  1. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/754be428-a04a-11e1-90f3-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1vV7VhMOY

    Doubts aired on welfare-to-workBy Sarah Neville, Public Policy Editor
    Companies charged with implementing the government’s flagship welfare-to-work programme have for the first time acknowledged they may not be able to meet its targets for getting benefit claimants into jobs.

    The programme, under which people claiming either
    unemployment or sickness benefit are given intensive help to return to work, is a key plank of the government’s drive to cut £18bn off the welfare budget.High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/754be428-a04a-11e1-90f3-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1vV7gh37o

    Until now, the Employment Related Services Association, trade body for welfare-to-work providers, has echoed ministerial optimism that the programme will meet its objective that after two years on the scheme, 36 per cent of long-term benefit claimants will have been found lasting work.

    But Kirsty McHugh, ERSA’s chief executive, signalled a move away from that stance when she told the Financial Times it was “too early to draw firm conclusions about the likelihood of meeting performance targets”.

    Ministers have said that the first tranche of statistically valid data about how the programme is working will not be available until July, a stance contested by providers and the Labour party.

    ERSA has now gathered its own data on those who have spent at least six months on the programme. It shows that on average around one in four – or 22 per cent – have been placed into jobs.

    Ms McHugh said ERSA’s findings showed “the welfare to work industry is pulling out all the stops to help jobseekers into employment”. But she indicated that the poor economic outlook threatened providers’ ability to keep up that pace.

    Chris Grayling, employment minister, told the FT the survey showed that, in a difficult labour market, the providers had made a good start towards meeting the government’s objective for the scheme.

    Financial Times.

    May 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

  2. Just out (circulated on Fracebook):

    Unpaid jobseekers to deliver patient care in three hospitals Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust to extend unpaid work experience scheme after successful pilot.

    Hap-tips all round to Quacking Plums who helped publicise this scandal in the first place.

    Andrew Coates

    May 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

  3. I believe that a system of genuine help is required to assist the unemployed to gain a job. I understand the slave labor element and the risk of employed losing jobs to unemployed. But something has to happen. We all know that the fault of the world is capitalism but what system other than communism and what vehicle would this new world order take? Yes it is not right that 5% of the humans on this earth own 95% of the wealth. Also that they want it all. Murdoch carbuncle as a fine example. We must be realistic to the realization that there are genuine workers unemployed who want to work in a similar vein as to there qualifications and that there is also a percentage of wasteful mentality, who do not want work. Just idling on the backs of others. “Which is sourly wrong”. Peaceful and violent protest will not work against the capitalist. Neither the established order!!
    I hate Seetec with a passion, due to the reason, that I am forced to participate, with its workhouse / prison establishment persona.
    I was a manager on the last community program 1982. I did not see one person gain a job in all the four years I was on program. But guys stop me in the street now and say how good our project was. It did give the guys self worth, especially when they worked hard to achieve the National Trust award. There is no simple reasoning in any part of unemployment. You only have to watch a couple of episodes of “how its made” to see most manufacturing is done by robots or by cheep labor abroad. BOOM AND BUST is the reality of capitalism. As Ricky Gervaise said ” Recession What recession? I didn’t notice any thing!!

    Richard Marshal

    May 21, 2012 at 11:18 pm

  4. this banana skin scheme is just getting worse and worse.

    another scandal has broken.


    this is quite clearly gross exploitation dressed up as an apprenticeship or valuable work experience.anyone who allows this to happen has no consideration for anyone’s safety,how on earth can this make people more employable when subjected to degrading practices such as this.


    June 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

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