Employers reject jobs scheme that's all work and no pay

Backlash spreads against project that forces benefit claimants to give their time for free 

A scheme under which jobseekers can lose benefits if they do not complete up to 30 hours a week of unpaid "work experience" is in disarray after companies and charities abandoned it in the wake of public anger.

The clothing retailer Matalan suspended its involvement in the Government project pending an internal inquiry after claims that the scheme was exploitative. Tesco delivered an ultimatum to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) demanding that ministers guarantee no one would lose their benefits, while both Oxfam and Shelter added their names to the list of organisations which have left it altogether.

The discount shop 99p Stores said it had also signed up to the scheme but was withdrawing because of the negative publicity, having not yet taken on a single worker through it. Waterstones, Sainsbury's and TK Maxx have also expressed their opposition.

The scheme attracted renewed criticism this week after a Tesco advert offered full-time hours for no pay. Instead, workers would receive only their Jobseeker's Allowance and some expenses, the advert said.

The figurehead for the backlash is Cait Reilly, a geology graduate from Birmingham, who was told she would lose her allowance if she refused to stack shelves at Poundland for no pay. Ms Reilly has since applied to bring a judicial review of the workfare scheme.

Other participants say they have been left in no doubt they would have their benefits cut if they refused a place on the scheme, in contradiction of DWP rules. One said he was placed in a company working alongside people on community service. "I spent eight hours a day, four days a week working for no money," said one participant, who asked not to be named. "I do not object on principle, it is not an issue doing a day's work but all the studies show it does not decrease unemployment. It makes a handful of Tory MPs happy and gives free labour to a lot of very rich firms."

Tesco, which has had 300 participants, said it had urged the DWP to soften the scheme's more punitive aspects. A spokesman said: "We understand the concern that those who stay in the scheme longer than a week risk losing their benefits if they drop out before the end of their placement. We have suggested to the DWP that, to avoid any misunderstanding about the voluntary nature, this threat of losing benefit should be removed."

The Commons work and pensions select committee is to examine the programme. Its chairman, the Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, said: "There is a huge risk that people on these schemes ... do not get into full-time work."

The Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling said: "Our Work Experience scheme is voluntary and thanks to companies like Tesco and many others has provided a route for literally thousands of young people to find their first job.The idea that providing Work Experience for unemployed young people is some kind of forced labour is utterly and completely absurd."

Case Study

The ‘big break’ that felt more like slave labour

Cait Reilly, 22, claims she was told by a Jobcentre Plus representative that participation on the work academy scheme was mandatory and her benefits depended on it.

She found that the project, which is actually voluntary, lasted four to six weeks and included a period of training as well as a stint of unpaid work experience, which involved working for 30 hours for as little as £50.45 in jobseeker's allowance. It is supposed to be followed by a guaranteed job interview. She claims the latter never materialised.

Participants like her are referred from a Jobcentre Plus to an agency which is responsible for finding them placements. Some say they were told they would be required to repeat a week's work – still unpaid – if they missed a single hour.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf