Get Your Workers For Free

I am going to buck the trend today and agree with a CiF article.

Okay, all recovered from our attack of the vapours? Good, then I shall begin.

Cait Reilly gives us an account of her experience as a jobseeker claiming JSA. She was recently sent on work experience/training with an employer as part of the conditions of continuing to draw her JSA. So far, so good. While this was not what she wanted to do as a career option, she went along with it as she accepted that it was part of the conditions and, importantly, at the end of the two weeks she was promised an interview with a possible job offer –  a job offer that if made, she would have accepted while she sought something more suited to her career plan. Now, it seems that like me when claiming last year, she is willing to take anything in the short term while continuing to seek a more suitable role in the longer term.

You would think, would you not, that I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this. After all, it is reasonable that those claiming JSA do all that they can to get back into work and are no longer being supported by the taxpayer. Well, in principle, yes, I do think that.

There are, however, some problems as Cait points out. Before we go there, let me make an observation from my own experience. In order to claim JSA the jobseeker must be available for work. So, while you can do some voluntary work, for example, or even up to 16 hours a week paid part-time work, you cannot attend full-time training even if this is going to increase your employment prospects. I was offered some training early last year and the Job Centre advised me that in order to take it up, I would have to sign off. Not telling them was not an option as the course would run into two weeks so I wouldn’t be available for the Thursday signing on. Cait Reilly managed to arrange some work experience in museums where she would like to work eventually. So she is clearly self-motivated into doing all that she can to enhance her job prospects.

Our heroine is now offered “training” via the Job Centre –  her own arrangements, like mine don’t count. The “training” as it turns out isn’t training at all, it is stacking shelves for two weeks. Given that she was doing this, she was not available for interviews and other job seeking activities. So we have a situation whereby it is okay for the Job Centre to send people on training/work experience that may be entirely useless to them, but if they have the self-motivation to sort out some training themselves, they are punished. Kafka would be proud.

Upon reading the article, one is reminded that whenever the public sector gets involved with anything, they manage to create unintended consequences. These people really couldn’t manage a fuck up in a whorehouse. They send the jobseeker on a two week assignment with an employer, yet there is no effective oversight into the quality of the outcomes. For this “training”, she receives her £65 per week JSA paid by the state. The employer then uses her to stack shelves. At the end of which, the interview and potential job prospects do not materialise. The employer simply takes another where that one came from and the cycle starts again. So, the employer gets free labour funded by the taxpayer and the jobseeker works for a pittance compared with her fellow workers.

If there was any form of accountability in this dire situation, the job centre would be conducting audits to ensure that there was actual training going on, interviews actually happen and that at least some of the applicants do, indeed, get job offers and that for the period of the work experience, the job seeker is paid the going rate for the task –  even if it is a slightly reduced training rate. As it is, we have employers ripping off the taxpayer and job seekers being exploited. Of course in Guardian-world, they are always being exploited –  usually by evil Tories in top hats. However, on this occasion, they happen to have a point.

So once again we have a situation where the public sector takes on what started out as a sensible idea and completely and thoroughly fucks it up, turning it into a Kafkaesque nightmare. Cait Reilly is taking it further. A judicial review no less. I have a feeling that she is pissing in the wind, but good luck to her anyway. If my experience with this dreadful process is anything to go by, she has my sympathies.

29 comments for “Get Your Workers For Free

  1. January 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I admit that I haven’t given this story my full attention; is there, by any chance, some private ‘agency’ involved in setting up these placements?

    A nice little earner for someone if there is!

    • January 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      It wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. David
    January 17, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I had to lie a few years ago and tell the dole office that I was studying a part time course for 2 years when I was really doing a full time course for one year! Seems they’d rather pay out for an extra 12 months than just let someone educate themselves off the dole in a year. The system is screwed. Once I’d finished my year’s course I never signed on again, thereby saving the taxpayer around £60,000 plus in housing benefit and JSA over the past x number of years.

  3. Tattyfalarr
    January 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Agree with most of the above but whatever way it’s put she is still not “working for free”. If she could drop that part and insert (as you correctly point out) “being exploited as cheap labour” she might stand a chance of being more widely accepted as having a point.

    • January 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      She probably didn’t word it very well. As far as the employer is concerned, she is working for free. That is the real crime here.

      • Tattyfalarr
        January 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm

        Sorry to appear such a pedant here but the misuse of language (deliberate or otherwise) triggers an OCD-like reaction in me.

        The danger being that deliberate incorrect use of language has thus far enabled some of the worst our society encompasses to make spurious claims that are eventually backed by the full weight of the ECHR and negatively used against the rest of us.

        In other words, people should be careful what they wish for…and what they allow others to wish for on their behalf !

        Correctly reworded her claims are indeed worthy of much closer scrutiny. Perhaps she just needs a bit of help to get her point across and you would think someone in the press with smidge of media training would have spotted this one flaw.

        • Bret Tom O'Hawks
          May 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

          Let me be a pedant:

          There is no “employer”. By definition, an unemployed person is not in employment and so will not have an employer and so there will be no contract of employment.

          There will be no employment rights and no union representation. There will not be any Health and Safety protection or public liability insurance protections. Such a person is not a volunteer as that person must be “mandated” in order to be exempted from the National Minimum Wage legislation. Such a person is in forced labour.

  4. January 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    “The employer then uses her to stack shelves. At the end of which, the interview and potential job prospects do not materialise. The employer simply takes another where that one came from and the cycle starts again. “

    Stacking shelves might seem like cheap labour, but is probably more complicated than it seems. Then there’s the obligatory H&S induction, the time taken to train & oversee by other staff, etc. Frankly, this looks like it might not be the bargain for the employer that everyone assumes…

    • January 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Having been through this with another retailer, it isn’t as complicated as that. Really it isn’t. The induction is pretty basic and the H&S stuff covered in a few hours, if that. As for the training – it doesn’t take long to get to know the location of products on shelves. The employer is still getting the best part of two weeks’ work out of someone whom they are not paying a bean for.

      There’s also the little matter of not keeping their end of the bargain regarding those guaranteed interviews…

    • James Riley
      January 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      Sadly, having worked in Retail Management for 30 years in various capacities, I would very much doubt if the induction process was any longer than an hour, the supervison would most likely be non existant and the Company involved would very much be laughing all the way to the bank.

      • January 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

        Although my experience wasn’t quite that bad, I suspect you aren’t far off there.

      • January 18, 2012 at 5:23 am

        I just can’t believe there’s enough ‘free workers’ to tip the balance from ‘mild assistance on occasion’ to ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ for the company…

        • January 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

          Doesn’t alter the principle, though, does it? I don’t expect my tax money to be used to assist the profitability of companies too damned tight to pay a living wage.

          • January 21, 2012 at 11:40 pm

            Precisely — thank you, Longrider.

            I hope this young woman succeeds. She did take initiative on getting the placement at the museum — something suited to her skills.

            However, whether anyone straight out of university should be getting JSA in the first place is another matter. If they haven’t paid into the system (taxes deducted at work), should they be getting unemployment benefit?

            Having stocked shelves in a summer job many years ago, there was very little training or skill required, other than common sense.

  5. January 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    I doubt very much if she will win her case on forced labour as,for now at least, the scheme is voluntary-she didn’t have to do it-and she should have checked the small print. I am in a similar situation and have been told i have to join some work programme. What annoys me is that I do actually work whenever I can get shifts. But because I don’t always get 16 hrs a week or earn more than my already reduced J.S.A due to a small pension,benefits average it out over 4 weeks. So I still get a tiny award.So, to earn this I may end up in the same situation. There is nothing wrong with doing something while looking for paid work, I always did. It’s good for your c.v. and you will keep skills up to date. But I’m sure whatever skills she gained she would have got them at the museum. And I’m not sure deals should be made with companies which are allegedly private enterprises. Is this the governments way to boost the economy? If it catches on will people be made redundant in order to make way for claimants working for free to the employer and funded by the tax payer? Will the new high speed rail line be dug by unemployed youths? nothing would surprise me anymore. 😕

    • January 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      I don’t think she will win her case either. That said, she has highlighted the iniquity of the situation.

      I have no problem with deals with private companies providing they are equitable. In this case, come off the JSA for two weeks and get paid the going rate.

      • Tattyfalarr
        January 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm

        In this case, come off the JSA for two weeks and get paid the going rate.

        There’s probably some administrative cost argument to that but it’s for employers to decide whether to bear it for their part and it would make them think twice about seeing this as an exploitation oppertunity.

        As for the DWP though, a simple suspension of benefit payment…as opposed to closing the claim and re-opening a new one…should be very simple to put into place and cost nothing as the option already exists.

        • January 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

          If the employer is serious in that they really do have employment opportunities then trying someone out for a couple of weeks with no commitment on either side would be a good option for them. To have that person for no cost is indeed exploitation and encourages unintended consequences.

          If someone is working, they should be paid the going rate. And it should not be the taxpayer who foots the bill.

  6. January 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    I doubt very much if she will win her case on forced labour as,for now at least, the scheme is voluntary-she didn’t have to do it-and she should have checked the small print. I am in a similar situation and have been told i have to join some work programme. What annoys me is that I do actually work whenever I can get shifts. But because I don’t always get 16 hrs a week or earn more than my already reduced J.S.A due to a small pension,benefits average it out over 4 weeks. So I still get a tiny award.So, to earn this I may end up in the same situation. There is nothing wrong with doing something while looking for paid work, I always did. It’s good for your c.v. and you will keep skills up to date. But I’m sure whatever skills she gained she would have got them at the museum. And I’m not sure deals should be made with companies which are allegedly private enterprises. Is this the governments way to boost the economy? If it catches on will people be made redundant in order to make way for claimants working for free to the employer and funded by the tax payer? Will the new high speed rail line be dug by unemployed youths? nothing would surprise me anymore. 😕

  7. Lord T
    January 17, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Elisabeth,

    It is voluntary just as it is voluntary when you are asked by a mugger for some cash. Up to the point of refusal you can say No.

    • January 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      Indeed. You can volunteer or not. If not, you lose the JSA. Still, your choice… 😐

  8. January 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    Mine is tomorrow. That’s what the previous two weeks light blogging has all been about. I shall report.

    • January 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Update: total fallout is £50 a month less and I have to have an online business up and running within two weeks. Piece of cake eh?

      • January 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        Presumably you will be enlightening us?

  9. ivan
    January 17, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I see that because she got hammered in the comments in the Mail last week she’s taken it to where she hopes there will be a more sympathetic audience.

    That being said this sort of thing has been going on ever since the last government set it up, except when they did it we knew there were their cronies raking in the money on the side.

    • January 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

      I didn’t see the Mail piece. I tend to avoid it unless specifically pointed to it. That she got hammered there just compounds the impression that the readership really is as thick as made out, frankly.

      For once, the Groan is right – although, I suspect, not for the right reasons.

      • January 18, 2012 at 10:55 am

        Okay, googled it and found the Jan Moir article. Jeebus but that woman’s a ignorant berk. She couldn’t even get the facts of the case right before wading in with bile and prejudice at full tilt.

  10. Maaarrghk!
    January 18, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Anyone else reminded of that bit in The League of Gentlemen where Micky was not allowed to leave the job club to go for an interview?

    • January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am

      I do. Reality surpasses parody.

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