by Natalie Bennett
I was able to snatch a little time on Wednesday to show support for the protest against workfare outside the Welfare to Work Conference, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. (Interestingly the protest organisers report that they paid for three, high-cost, tickets for this conference about this lucrative “industry” but were denied entry.)
As speakers explained, what’s increasingly happening is that unemployed people are being forced to work for their payment, getting far less than the minimum wage for their work, and providing free labour for for-profit, indeed highly profitable companies, from major supermarkets to discount stores to councils and charities.
No one would object to the unemployed being provided with appropriate training, but forced shelf-stacking, and other unskilled labour, at what should be regarded as illegal rates, absolutely can’t be defended.
There should be the opportunity for the unemployed to take up the internship-type roles with charities and public service institutions for significant periods, while not also being forced to jump through hoops to show they continue to look for work. But it should be voluntary, it should offer opportunities to acquire real skills, and it shouldn’t be an option for for-profit companies, which should paid proper wages to anyone working for them.
And as many of the speakers pointed out, if this work is being done by unpaid forced labour, it isn’t available to properly paid workers…
Speakers also highlighted the way in which parents caring for children are being forced to look for work from when the children are aged five, with potentially disatrous consequences for the children’s care, and the parents’ peace of mind.