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

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

  1. Matt Zarb

    “@alexhern: I wrote a thing about Tesco's pressganging at @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/Hq8fQKf1”

    Tesco made £1.9bn in disappointing half year.

  2. Bernadette Horton

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

  3. Nick E Woodfine

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

  4. Michael Stryder

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/cAL7Vmj3

  5. Ferret Dave

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

  6. graeme holmes

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

  7. Robert Hesketh

    I wrote a thing about Tesco's pressganging at @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/EdH6AIm2

  8. leftlinks

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

  9. L Minx

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

  10. False Economy

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

  11. Brummie Protestor

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

  12. wendy brown

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

  13. Tom Matthews

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

  14. Thomas Goodwin, G.G.

    #UK : Tesco ’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/nuOIXmz4

  15. SeanAF

    Another reason not to shop at Tesco RT @FalseEcon: Left Foot Forward – Tesco’s unpaid labour http://t.co/Rna9Qz1i

  16. Alex Klaushofer

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

  17. Pulp Ark

    Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart… http://t.co/ZmaRVv0x #Sustainable_Economy #modern_slavery #slavery #muslim #tcot #sioa

  18. BevR

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

  19. Brian Bailey

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/[email protected]

  20. Tom Miller

    “every person working for the supermarket chain while still receiving state benefits is an in-kind subsidy from the government; ”

    And, like most jobs, but to a far greater expense, also a subsidy from the worker.

  21. Amanda Kendal

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

  22. James Governor

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/siHdPkzy

  23. Ceiliog

    The URL states that the source is jobcentreplus . jobhits . co. uk.
    It is not the JobCentrePlus website.

    If you click on the link you will notice that there is a message overlay at the base which reads:-
    “This adjunct is made by JobHits Job Search Engine. We have done our best to fetch the Jobseekers Direct page that you have asked for. We would add that we are not responsible for the content and that this page has been retrieved from cache. It is about 8 hours old.”

    No Such Job.
    A search on the jobseekers . direct. gov. uk website for job ref BSD/27442 reveals that there is no vacancy with that code.
    “Sorry, job number bsd/27442 has not been found. It may be mis-typed or no longer available. Please check the number and try again.”

  24. Anonymous

    I despise Tesco and sometimes go in just to point out that their packaged fruit & veg are mispriced and,strangely, not to the customers’ advantage. (try it – they always have something mispriced when I go in).
    When they ignore you, stand at the till and refuse to pay the wrong price and phone consumer direct immediately (BTW not a patch on trading standards RIP)

  25. Lee Jones

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

  26. Nick H.

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

  27. thattommyhall

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/siHdPkzy

  28. John COYB Syme

    Dear Tesco, I will not be shopping with you until you stop treating employees as slaves who the taxpayer pays. http://t.co/Is1BwdlX

  29. Anonymous

    1. There are lots of benefits claimants who have lost the habit of work, if they ever had it in the first place.

    Making them work for their welfare is one way of getting them back into the habit of getting up, getting out and doing something apart from watching Jeremy Kyle.

    It’s part of training for work.

    2. Subsidy. Yep, its a subsidy.

    However since when are you against subsidy? You’ve been arguing for subsidy for ages. Feed in tariffs are subsidies. The rich get the money at the expense of the poor.

    Welfare itself is a subsidy.

    Housing benefit is a subsidy.

    Tax credits are a subsidy.

    Labour is built on the idea of giving subsidies to the chosen one’s, less the expenses of the other chosen.

  30. Maryam Pasha

    Wonderful forced labour in the UK! http://t.co/1Y8TL8GS http://t.co/IhtW48iG #sarcasm #slavery #JSA # TESCO

  31. TheCreativeCrip

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

  32. David Ross

    How our government hands tax-payer subsidies to the biggest retailer in the country http://t.co/xHlFZEWC

  33. that'd be me

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

  34. Colin J.Benson

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

  35. dji45

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

  36. Franco

    ‘There are lots of benefits claimants who have lost the habit of work, if they ever had it in the first place.’

    You are a bigotted ignoramus. 99 percent of those on benefits are quite capable of getting up and doing things, they should not be exploited in this way. If the government wants them to work, give them a proper job with a proper wage.

    Most of the people that spout hatred and whinge incesantly about ‘scroungers’ dont have a clue what real hard work is. And those that do would be better off directing their ire at worthy targets rather than buy into the media frenzy about scroungers and benefits cheats that are largely imaginary.

  37. Gareth_orr

    Rather than private enterprise gaining from free workers. Why not make these work experience hopefulls go and clean up the streets. I think this is a better idea, and I’m on the dole too. Yes I’d rather clean streets, cut grass or other civic nicities that would benefit my town.

  38. Awake!

    the truth is that after a while of being forced to work in exchange for their benefits, people will find a job… any job, cos it will pay more than the benefit.
    The elft hate this idea because it might actually get unemployment down.

  39. pompeyfaith

    You are a bigotted ignoramus, that’s one way of putting it but the fact remains these workfare programs are being undertaken by large multi-national corporations who could easily afford to pay at least the NMW this is capitalism at it’s worsted

  40. Mike Manchester

    There is quite a bit of truth in this story even if Tesco are trying to backtrack now. A friend of mine was on JSA, and as part of this, he went to work for tesco for a period of 1 month, unpaid, at 35 hours a week. At the end of the month, the manager, seemingly pleased with the work he had done, asked my friend if he would like to stay on for another few months. When my friend asked if this would be paid, the manager laughed, and said “why would we pay you when there are hundreds of people we could get to do it for free??”.

    So there you have it. I have no doubt that if there wasn’t a minimum wage, Tesco would currently be employing people at 20p an hour if they could get away with it.

  41. Jim Moore

    Safeguards were needed to ensure that training opportunities for the unemployed was not turned into a farce for profiteerig by the retail giants. If the retailers had really intended to help put right even partly the high unemployment rates among young people then it could have provided for a contract under which the retailers could be subsidised by job centre while topping up wages to the legal minimum wage. I hardly see the point in humiliating unemployed people instead of giving them real opportunities and not a white wash for opportunities

  42. Anonymous

    99 percent of those on benefits are quite capable of getting up and doing things,

    ===========

    99% can work?

    When I point out that disability has risen from 1 million to 2.5 million, I keep being told here that the extra 1.5 million can’t work.

    99% are committing fraud is it now?

    So on the 99% on unemployment, what exactly is wrong with them doing some sort of work for their welfare once they are past the contibution based support?

    It was Labour party policy, and the Condems have just carried on with it.

    Now if you are saying their should be compulsorary community service for all I might agree with you. That is exploitation.

  43. Dominic Naylor

    NO. How about people care for there environment, and those who dont; be forced to clean it up!

  44. Stew Mac

    Scum

  45. Anonymous

    God your a dick, you really are.

  46. Carmen

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

  47. Scot Walker

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/XycGHxT2

  48. Scot Walker

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/iMNQeosX” @UKTesco you need to act on this – no place for slave labour

  49. Flux

    Tesco's unpaid labour shows flaw at the heart of workfare http://t.co/iMNQeosX” @UKTesco you need to act on this – no place for slave labour

  50. Mick Bailey

    RT @SoupySoupySue RT @gemmatumelty: RT @leftfootfwd More on Tesco and the horrors of #workfare from @AlexHern: http://t.co/rvzg6Oq2… #BBCqt

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