Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare

Alex Hern examines the kerfuffle around Tesco's adverts for unpaid work, and finds it to be kerfuffle-worthy indeed

 

There is fresh outrage against the government’s flagship workfare program today, as an advert on a government job seekers’ website revealed the extent of Tesco’s involvement with the work experience scheme, which involves mandatory work under the threat of removal of benefits.

The advert which sparked the concern was for night shift work with Tesco in East Anglia, with pay listed as “JSA + expenses”. The position was advertised as permanent, despite being labelled as part of the “sector-based work academy” (SWBA) scheme, which limits placements to six weeks.

Within hours, a number of similar positions were found by Guardian journalist Shiv Malik: One advertising salary as “benefits and travel to work costs”, another in Clevedon paying “normal JSA”, and a third – the only one clearly labelled “work experience” in the title – again paying”benefit plus travelling costs”.

Tesco’s response to the discoveries has been fluctuating. Originally, their customer care Twitter feed was replying to complaints by delivering the PR line:

“We are taking part in a government-led work experience scheme to help young people, this has already led to 300 permanent jobs.”

At 10:32 this morning, however, they changed their tone, and started telling people that:

“This is an error made by Jobcentre Plus. It should be an advert for work experience with a guaranteed interview at the end.”

Regardless of whether it was an error – made at least four times, by four different Tesco stores – the fact remains that even the best spin on what Tesco is doing involves getting the free labour of a significant proportion of the 24,000 jobseekers who were told to start working for no pay or lose their benefits.

This represents a significant transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to Tesco, a business which, in a disappointing half year, made only £1.9 billion of profit.

Just as when they refuse to pay their employees the living wage, every person working for the supermarket chain while still receiving state benefits is an in-kind subsidy from the government; this is just more transparently the case when Tesco pays no wage at all.

Tesco has a choice in this matter. Many of their competitors, such as Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, have confirmed that they will not be using work experience labour; but Tesco insists the decision is up to individual store managers, and as a result the allure of free employees seems to tempting to resist.

At it’s heart, however, the problem lies with the government program which legitimises this practice.

The claim that it is aimed towards providing useful work experience that will lead to jobs is demonstrably untrue; both from the preponderance of placements which provide ‘experience’ in jobs which require none, and from the evidence provided by cases like Cait Reilly’s – taken off valuable work experience in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to stack shelves in Poundland.

Instead, it is looking more and more like this workfare program is driven by populist anger against ‘benefit scroungers’: The logic seems to be that if they can work, they should work; and if there are no jobs available, they should work for free until there are. It is policy by demonisation, and it is shameful.

See also:

Five reasons Clegg can’t stand on his social mobility recordAlex Hern, January 12th 2012

2012: The year ahead for young peopleAlex Hern, January 7th 2012

Why workfare won’t workStephen Evans, November 8th 2010

Alexander: Welfare reform is meaningless amidst jobless recoveryLiam R Thompson, November 5th 2010

Tory tough talk on welfare won’t help people into workNicola Smith, April 21st 2010

108 Responses to “Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare”

  1. Martin Johnston

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  2. julie carney

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/AqkH55Im

  3. Martell Thornton

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare | Left …: There is fresh outrage against the gov… //t.co/Hd474ARY

  4. Newsbot9

    Except of course it harms their chance of getting a job. They can’t find a job while they’re stuck stacking shelves. And they lose useful volunteering and work experience places.

    But hey, it means 1%ers like you can get more slave labour. Typical slaver mentality.

  5. Newsbot9

    You’d rather slave doing make-work in the streets than make-work for companies? How about we don’t use slavery at all?

  6. Newsbot9

    That’s right, your addiction to corporate welfare means you’re a lousy “worker”.
    Training involves learning, not having the state use slaves to subsidise your stock portfolio.

    Moreover, keeping people alive isn’t a subsidy. So sorry murder’s out of vogue with the left.

  7. Newsbot9

    Slavery. And of course you want slavery to prop up your corporate welfare aid budget!

  8. Kindlewell

    Left Foot Forward – Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/JbvoIZSp

  9. sueworld

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare, writes @alexhern: //t.co/YgLneBYU

  10. walking class hero

    tesco night shift workers earning JSA + expenses. Is that the same expenses as MPs expenses? aah thought not! //t.co/LXO6Gio1

  11. Giles Bridge

    The extent of 'free' labour being used by Tescos and others, tho u/e 'free' to say no? RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid //t.co/B7Knj8wA

  12. Keith Davis

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  13. Keith Davis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/3yV67DCp #wrb

  14. Keith Davis

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare, writes @alexhern: //t.co/YgLneBYU

  15. The Samosa » Archive » Flaw at the heart of workfare

    […] Originally published by Left Foot Forward Tweet […]

  16. Robaire B

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  17. European Socialists call for more than talk on youth unemployment - will the blue bloc listen? | Left Foot Forward

    […] replacement for the flexible new deal in the UK, the coalition’s work program, has not had quite the same positive […]

  18. Sarah Rudston

    #Tesco claiming that job ad on pay of "JSA + expenses" was a "mistake". A mistake they made at least 3 times? #workfare //t.co/DCVX1Rnx

  19. Anubis

    #Tesco claiming that job ad on pay of "JSA + expenses" was a "mistake". A mistake they made at least 3 times? #workfare //t.co/DCVX1Rnx

  20. Betty Broken

    #Tesco claiming that job ad on pay of "JSA + expenses" was a "mistake". A mistake they made at least 3 times? #workfare //t.co/DCVX1Rnx

  21. Alice in Blunderland

    #Tesco claiming that job ad on pay of "JSA + expenses" was a "mistake". A mistake they made at least 3 times? #workfare //t.co/DCVX1Rnx

  22. Alex

    #Tesco claiming that job ad on pay of "JSA + expenses" was a "mistake". A mistake they made at least 3 times? #workfare //t.co/DCVX1Rnx

  23. Mark Krantz

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  24. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘If the government wants them to work, give them a proper job with a proper wage.’

    To do what? Dig holes and fill them back in again?

    Fair enough, the government needs to employ people (police, army, etc) but it can’t simply give employment to everyone. It gets its money through taxes and borrowing. The population is already taxed to the hilt and borrowing only gets you so far.

    Those who are capable of working should at least try. I’m not disputing that many do yet can’t get a job. I am, however, disagreeing in the strongest terms that someone should have the luxury of refusing work and instead living off others.

  25. Ed's Talking Balls

    People in jobs find other jobs all the time. It would be pretty limiting if having one job meant you were stuck there forever and couldn’t move.

    And your assumptions about employer attitudes are interesting, to say the least. I can think of plenty who might prefer the get-up-and-go of someone who can put ‘Tesco’ on their CV rather than someone who did endless internships.

    Both are useful. There’s no need to denigrate work. Then again, it’s your default setting to defend the idle. Maybe they’re your very own 1%?

  26. CHRISGT56

    Where is the Labour party in fighting this outrage??!

  27. Jane Leach

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/znYDwxY3

  28. Pink Humanist

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/znYDwxY3

  29. malcolm

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare //t.co/znYDwxY3

  30. Newsbot9

    They’ve had their own slavery programs, so don’t look there.

  31. Stephen Lockett

    “At it’s heart, however, the problem lies with the government program which legitimises this practice”.

    Exactly; Shame on Tesco for taking advantage, double the shame on the Government for both initiating and fuelling it in the first place!

  32. Newsbot9

    Ah right, “slave labour” looks so great on a CV, when many bosses will penalise a CV for too many internships (“poor bargaining skills”). You of course haven’t noticed that there’s a job shortage, and that you are cheering on the rapidly rising unemployment rate.

    Of course slave labour is good for the bottom line of your share portfolio, You’re spouting typical slaver propaganda.

  33. dolly daydream

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  34. BevR

    More on Tesco and the horrors of workfare from @AlexHern: //t.co/objVNdUN #BBCqt

  35. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘Slaver’?

    You really are off your rocker. You’re so deluded you have no concept of how offensive your bizarre comments are.

    While you’re on a roll, why not drop in a gratuitous reference to the Holocaust?

  36. Jaydin

    "@leftlinks: Left Foot Forward – Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of #workfare //t.co/RhvgeYZo"

  37. Granny Giles, Up Country

    Boycott Tesco’s! Disgusting company, disgusting practices, disgusting ethics!

  38. Chris Grayling should respond to criticism of workfare, not smear the critics | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare – Alex Hern, February 16th […]

  39. Jaydin

    "@leftlinks: Left Foot Forward – Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of #workfare //t.co/RhvgeYZo"

  40. keith davis

    "@leftlinks: Left Foot Forward – Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of #workfare //t.co/RhvgeYZo"

  41. The information you need to end workfare | Left Foot Forward

    […] on this scandal in November, and awareness has grown since then, with anger hitting a tipping point last week. Since then, the successes have come thick and fast, and it is within our power to end this scheme […]

  42. DadaSiegt

    Putting “shelfstacker for Tesco” on your CV is certainly going to advance your job prospects in the world.

    And what is so good about “work for the sake of work” that you seem to be advocating? Damn right I’m denigrating, meaningless, societally useless, menial, degrading, backbreaking, thought destroying work such as this. What is the point?

  43. Workfare is not voluntary | Left Foot Forward

    […] Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare – Alex Hern, February 16th […]

  44. Ed's Talking Balls

    So, you think shelfstackers are pointless.

    Where do you draw the line?

    Are those on the production line doing useless work too? Is there no point in manufacturing in general?

    Just because something is repetitive, difficult and entirely unglamorous, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. I can’t even guess at how many jobs you’ve dismissed with your last comment.

    I suppose in your utopia we’d all be brain surgeons or footballers. Meanwhile, in the real world, a variety of jobs need doing. Thankfully, some of us realise this and don’t turn our noses up at work, expecting others to do the legwork and pay for us. It’s called self-respect – one of the many virtues of work.

  45. Workfare versus compulsory work: When is it right and wrong to mandate labour? | Left Foot Forward

    […] Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare – Alex Hern, February 16th […]

  46. The government’s got big plans for workfare – don’t expect them to back down easily | Left Foot Forward

    […] is a word the government wishes would just go away. It is two weeks now since the infamous Tesco advert, offering ‘Job Seekers Allowance plus benefits’ working nightshifts, provoked public outrage […]

  47. Marie-Louise Irvine

    "We'll always make work pay" says the MP whose party has introduced mandatory unpaid work: //t.co/objVNdUN #PMQs

  48. Thomas Hemingford

    "We'll always make work pay" says the MP whose party has introduced mandatory unpaid work: //t.co/objVNdUN #PMQs

  49. dolly daydream

    "We'll always make work pay" says the MP whose party has introduced mandatory unpaid work: //t.co/objVNdUN #PMQs

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