240 hours’ work for no pay – then back on the unemployment scrapheap
Unemployed from Hull
After being unemployed for over eight months in Hull, one of the worst areas for unemployment in the country, I was put onto a ‘voluntary’ work experience scheme.
The Jobcentre had been mentioning the Work Experience scheme to me for a good few weeks when they phoned me up to put me forward for what they called a “brilliant opportunity”. This amounted to a four to eight week placement at a Home Bargains store with a possible job at the end of the placement – if they chose to ‘keep us on’.
In the end I worked 30 hours a week for the full eight weeks (almost double the contracted hours we would have if we got the job) – six hours a day, Monday to Friday. Four of us started at the same time and another four started a month later. This meant that the shop, which employed between 30 and 40 people, had seven (one participant got a job elsewhere) people working the contracted hours of 15 fully paid workers but receiving nothing from the employer!
Numerous members of staff asked if we were part of the A4e programme which was recently shown to be nothing more than a money-making scam for the shareholders of the company. This indicates that the use of people forced onto benefits due to a lack of jobs is commonplace at the store I worked at.
Although the placement was supposed to be about gaining ‘experience’, within three or four weeks I was fully trained in pretty much all aspects of the work. After a month I and my fellow work experience colleagues were used as nothing but unpaid workers – not shadowing anyone but given the same responsibilities as members of staff.
I was also asked to a do a ‘stock take’ while at the store but this was scheduled for a Sunday. This was technically illegal as we had been told that we weren’t permitted to work weekends or bank holidays. Bur we all realised that to challenge this probably would have resulted in us not getting work at the end of the placement.
The most galling thing about my time on work experience was that after the first week the store manager said that she would look at putting us on the payroll after we were till-trained. Well, by the end of the third week I was fully till-trained yet still I heard nothing about being kept on.
At the end of my eight weeks I was told that I wasn’t getting the job. As annoying as this is, it was made worse by the fact that, as a result of the placement, I missed training opportunities that would have given me a much higher chance of gaining employment.
These schemes are used, not to give training or experience, but to undercut those who are in paid employment using unpaid ‘volunteers’. Because of this it is vital that the trade union movement, especially those that organise in retail and fast food, take up the issue of workfare and also of youth unemployment – which is now over one million.
A coordinated trade union fightback which includes moves towards unionising un-unionised workplaces could see workfare fully defeated and be a huge blow to the Con-Dems and their pro-big business agenda. Youth Fight for Jobs is campaigning across the country against workfare and for genuine job creation as young people say: we won’t be a lost generation!