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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy