WORKFARE: AN ATTACK ON BOTH THE UNEMPLOYED AND WAGES OF THE EMPLOYED
PRACTICAL STEPS TO RESIST BEING SENT ON WORKFARE
If you are being forced onto workfare please see the links below for steps you can take to resist, and a guide to how you can fight the workfare referral at every stage, at the Jobcentre, at the Provider, at the Placement.....
If, despite everything, you are ordered to turn up at a workplace for your forced unpaid labour, all is not yet lost. Imagine if, ten minutes after you arrived for your placement, a group of demonstrators rolled up at the premises and started protesting against workfare! This might well make the workfare exploiter think twice! Of course as far as the employer was concerned, you wouldn't know these people, it would just be a co-incidence......
You could contact ECAP or your local anti workfare/ claimants action group and discuss if they could organise something on these lines, we would certainly be very keen....or ask your friends if they would be up for some practical solidarity. The more the merrier, but it doesn't need a big crowd, half a dozen or so folk could still have a big impact, especially at a shop.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty carried out a solidarity action exactly like this at the Salvation Army charity shop on Leith Walk, Edinburgh. A few minutes after a new workfare conscript reported for duty, a dozen of us invaded the shop with placards denouncing the government slave labour schemes. The shop manager panicked and locked everyone in the back room, leaving us free to roam the shop and give out anti workfare leaflets to startled bargain hunters. The new conscript was not put to work: "You can leave now, come back tomorrow for an interview," he was soon told by the manager.
He did indeed return the next day - but so did we. Another demo ensued, with the police in attendance this time - no arrests though. Unsurprisingly our man was told he was not a suitable recruit for the Salvation Army, and was not required to carry out his placement.
While potentially very effective, this kind of action does have risks - the workfare provider (such as Ingeus, Learndirect, A4e etc) might well blame you for the demo and could well make a sanction referral. It would of course be very difficult for them to prove that you were involved with the demo, and then, even if you were, surely this is supposed to be a democracy! You can resist sanctions - advice here
What we would say is that if even half the people forced onto workfare initiated such a solidarity action to coincide with their starting the slave labour scheme, then workfare would become completely UNworkable.
BELOW - MORE TIPS ON RESISTING WORKFARE SCHEMES
We encourage resisting workfare every step of the way. Remember at all appointments you have the right to be accompanied.
RESISTING WORKFARE AT THE JOBCENTRE
If the Jobcentre says you have to go on workfare, then you don't need to just accept this injustice. You can object and demand a meeting with the Jobcentre manager or the higher-up District Office management.
See links below for how you can object to being sent on Mandatory Work Activity (MWA). If they are trying to send you on the six-months Community Work Placements scheme you can object that they are breaking their own DWP Guidance. See for example Point 67 "Claimants suitable for referral to CWP are those whose primary barrier to work is either a lack of recent work experience or a lack of motivation." If this does not apply to you - object! (work experience includes voluntary work, after all CWP is not providing PAID work experience!)
You could also tell the Jobcentre that rather than going on workfare you want to get support through the Flexible Support Fund. The DWP has the power to issue grants for training, and also goods and services including childcare, tools, clothing and fares to interviews. If you have never heard of the Flexible Support Fund it could be because Jobcentre workers have been told by their bosses not to tell claimants about it! If you are sent on Community Work Placements then you CANNOT access the Flexible Support Fund (see Point 78 of the DWP Guidance) - so this is yet another reason for not being sent on workfare.
If despite everything the Jobcentre refer you to the workfare provider, you can still make an official complaint and pursue it as far as the DWP Chief Executive's at the London HQ. While we do not have any faith in them, there is nothing to lose by also complaining to your MP, perhaps particularly if you are in Scotland and have one of the SNP MP's who say they are against sanctions and austerity.
RESISTING WORKFARE AT THE PROVIDER
If despite objections, you are still sent to a workfare provider such as Learndirect, Ingeus, A4e etc, then it is very important to be accompanied. This is your right. You have the right to be accompanied at all times and to all types of appointments at the providers.
For example ECAP accompanies claimants at Learndirect, Ingeus and A4e in Edinburgh. Sometimes the provider may try and deny you this right - just stand firm and don't back down. Sometimes the provider may claim you cannot be accompanied to the so-called "individual assessment" and induction. This is rubbish. ECAP has accompanied people to several inductions at several workfare providers in Edinburgh. Never meet them alone!
Before you and your accompanier go to the initial appointment at the workfare provider we recommend you study the links below. There is lots of information about your rights and ways you can make it more difficult for the provider to force you to work for nothing. For example you could print out, fill in and present the provider with the Insurance Verification form and / or the Protest Notification letter.
We strongly advise that you do not sign any documents you are presented with. this makes it more difficult for the provider to make money out of you, and should stop them sharing your information with third parties. The DWP have written “There is no mandatory requirement for individuals to sign specific forms when participating in Back to Work (BtW) schemes, including Help to Work (HtW) ”
When you arrive at the provider you and your accompanier could ask for a meeting with the manager and state that it is not suitable or appropriate for you to be at the provider and you wish to be referred back to the Jobcentre. At Learndirect in Edinburgh the local manager is Vicky Wilson and the Scotland area manager is Alison Nimmo. You could explain that you are still contesting the referral with the Jobcentre and so should be referred back there. Claimants backed by ECAP have been referred back to the Jobcentre by Learndirect in Edinburgh on the grounds that the claimant wished support for becoming self-employed, and that this was better provided by schemes via the Jobcentre, and in another case on the grounds that the claimant had a job offer (he was awaiting disclosure clearance).
If you are forced to attend the provider there are still things you can do to better your conditions. With solidarity support from ECAP, claimants at providers have won the right to change adviser. With our backing, claimants have also got the provider to agree they do not have to attend so often. We have successfully pressured providers to change the information they have sent to DWP decisonmakers, in order to get sanctions overturned.
Backed by ECAP, a disabled claimant on ESA, who had been forced onto the Work Programme with Ingeus, successfully insisted that he need not attend the provider's premises but could instead conduct appointments by phone.
RESISTING WORKFARE AT THE PLACEMENT
If sent to an employer involved in the slave labour schemes then you still have many ways you can resist.
Tell ECAP and/or some friends your start date and time and an anti workfare demo can be arranged to co-incide with your arrival! We have done this with great success - see above.
Another good tactic is to contact the management of the placement, and tell them, politely but firmly, that it is a disgrace that their organisation is involved in the exploiting workfare schemes, putting claimants at risk of sanctions and hunger. If the placement is at a charity, urge that instead they join the over 550 charities who have signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement to boycott workfare. You could either ring the organisation in advance or ask to speak to a manager on the day. Make it clear that you are not refusing to do the placement, but you think their organisation is a disgrace! And you are writing to your MP and to the papers to say this! The idea of course is to get the employer to refuse to take you, but without giving the DWP any excuse to sanction you.
Edinburgh claimant Jimmy did just this in early 2015 when Learndirect sent him to the Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre on the Community Work Placements scheme. He told the Centre manager that he would do the placement, but it was out of order that such a community resource should exploit claimants in this way. The Centre boss told Learndirect that they did not want Jimmy. Learndirect, acting in a typically unfair manner, sent a biased report to the DWP which resulted in Jimmy suffering a four-week sanction.
But then Jimmy sought solidarity from ECAP. We accompanied him to three appointments at Learndirect's Morrison Street offices, insisting on an appointment with the top managers. We insisted that Learndirect had to withdraw the sanction referral, and tell the DWP that Jimmy should not be sanctioned. After all Jimmy had not refused to carry out the placement, he was only exercising his right of free speeck - this is a democracy isn't it?! We wrote to the DWP decisionmakers in the same terms. Jimmy then received news from the DWP that the sanction was overturned. He was re-paid all the JSA benefits he had lost. And he didn't have to go on workfare, instead with ECAP support he persuaded Learndirect to refer him back to the Jobcentre to get support over self-employment.
If you are going to speak to the manager at the workfare placement about how you think their organisation should not be involved in workfare, then you can take someone with you to back you up.
Other good tactics are to present the placement manager with the Insurance Verification form and the Protest Notification letter - see links below for the forms for MWA and CWP workfare schemes. The Insurance Verification form has recently been used (spring 2015) with great success in ending a large number of workfare placements in Wales.
If you are forced into slave labour against your will, remember it's not your fault if you are a very incompetent worker, drop things, spill coffee on the computer keyboard, and make lots of mistakes......
MAKE WORKFARE UNWORKABLE!
The above ways of resisting are not guaranteed to release you from workfare. However they all certainly make it more difficult for the authorities to force us into slave labour, and cause significant problems for the Jobcentre and provider in taking up their time and resources. If a large number of people objected and resisted like this, the system couldn't cope.
If enough of us fight workfare every step of the way then we can make this exploiting system come grinding to a halt! Let's make workfare UNworkable!
SAFEGUARD YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION - DON'T CO-OPERATE WITH WORKFARE “…there is no mandatory requirement for participants on the Work Programme to sign action plans, health and safety documents, sign in sheets or acceptable behaviour documents and participants will not be sanctioned if they do not sign the documents.” http://refuted.org.uk/2013/11/05/sign/
This applies to the other workfare schemes too - the DWP have written “There is no mandatory requirement for individuals to sign specific forms when participating in Back to Work (BtW) schemes, including Help to Work (HtW) ”
Check out your JSA Rights, too; see the link in the 'Important Information' page.
Here is the DWP's guidance to Workfare for their private providers
Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) referral jobcentre challenge letter - Pdf and Word format
Above section last updated June 2015. Names of claimants have been changed.
Section below was written earlier and some figures may need updated.
The Work Programme
NO TO SLAVE LABOUR
Let's get organised to resist the Work Programme and all “work-for-your-benefits” schemes
Workfare – the idea that claimants should work for their benefits now that capitalist economic crisis and corporate moves to exploit Far Eastern cheap labour has thrown them on the dole – was imported from the USA by the last Labour Government under the guise of the Flexible New Deal. Naturally, the ConDems have picked up this nasty anti-claimant baton and have refined it as the Work Programme, pledging to throw £5 billion at the corporate vultures waiting to feed on our misfortune.
So, with an unemployment rate of 8.4%, with 2.68 million officially unemployed (with a further 2.4 million out of work but not showing on registered statistics) and the Office of National Statistics showing one vacancy for every 10 jobseekers, the unemployed are going to be ‘retrained’ and ‘job-prepared’ to fit in with a national media-spun narrative that they’re only on the dole because they’re workshy. And helping them into this fantasy world of millions of job vacancies will be such “philanthropic” organisations as G4S (AKA Group 4 Security – fresh from their abysmal failure in running Britain’s private prisons.) (Unemployment figures from January 2012).
Keep in mind the context of these moves: the vast majority of us are unemployed involuntarily; many of us find ourselves with the wrong skills in the wrong place thanks to the machinations of the rich and powerful ( we can all see that there is plenty of work needing to be done in housing, infrastructure ,welfare, production etc but capitalism can’t make profit out of such socially necessary work); the housing market makes it difficult for us to move; some of us are too ill to work.
Despite all the hot air, the Work Programme has nothing to do with helping us into meaningful work, or helping us ‘back into society’. Its aims are to cut the welfare budget, and to attack wages, providing cheap disciplined labour. Providers have been given a ‘black box’ contract – no mandated requirement to do specific things whilst ‘training’: they are free to do whatever they think necessary and sanctions, beginning at loss of all benefit for two weeks, progressing to 6 months, can be applied for ‘non-compliance’.
ANOTHER ATTACK ON CLAIMANTS
- And to supplement the attacks of the Work Programme, the government have added the Mandatory Work Activity programme so claimants, within days of signing on , can:
- Be forced to work 30 hours per week for 4 weeks for their benefits – which means at £2.25 per hour.
- The 30 hours can cover 7 days a week, so they can be made to work weekends.
- Face up to 4 such ‘activities’ per year.
- Be sent to work unrelated to the claimant’s work goals, or their past experience or qualifications.
Be ‘sanctioned’ (ie lose all benefits) for an INITIAL period of 13 weeks, rising to 6 months, for ‘non-compliance’ (eg lateness)
Be able to appeal this only within a 5 day period (unlike the old 30 day system).
The decision to refer to an ‘activity’ will be at the discretion of the DWP adviser – who we now know, thanks to a Guardian investigation, is subject to targets that have to be met. The pretence that any of this is anything to do with training or support has been stripped away. Claimants will have no right to withdraw their labour and no right to the National Minimum Wage.
And all of this comes at a time of rising unemployment. The IMF has said that even if (a very big ‘if’!) the UK economy recovers, structural unemployment will remain at 6.8% - which means 2 million permanently on the dole.
At a time when education and training is under threat, and housing benefit and other public services and benefits are being cut, this is a double pronged attack by the state on our conditions:
1 – It’s an attack on ALL wages, creating a pool of ultra cheap labour with no right to industrial action.
2 – An attack on already savaged benefits as ‘sanctions’ will rocket.
WHAT CAN WE DO ?
If you are sent on the Work Programme, don't be bullied by the company running the scheme, known as the provider (in Edinburgh these are A4e, Ingeus and JHP). Stand up for yourself.
- Take a friend or advisor with you to any important appointments.
- With solidarity support from us, claimants attending A4E and Ingeus have won the right to change their advisor.
- We have successfully fought attempts to have claimants sanctioned.
- With our support, claimants have got the provider to agree they don't need to attend so often.
- If the provider says you have to work for your benefits and you don't want to do it – you could object. The DWP has stated that the Work Programme does not necessarily involve work placements and any placements should be agreed between the provider and the claimant (contact us for a copy of the relevant DWP letter). We can back you up over this.
- Plus you could ask the provider about insurance at your work placement, what happens if you have an accident, or if you are involved in an accident in which another worker or a member of the public is injured (eg in a shop)?
- If you are forced into slave labour against your will, remember it's not your fault if you are a very incompetent worker, drop things and make lots of mistakes......
- Alternatively, you could insist that you will only agree to a placement in an area of work which interests you and where you will receive some proper training.
- You could insist that instead of working for your benefits you prefer training or a college course.
- To make it difficult for the provider to money out of you, you can decline to fill in the Information Disclosure form which gives the provider permission to share your personal data with any future employer and with the DWP. You can do this without endangering your benefits – ask us for our special leaflet on this. (See also: http://refuted.org.uk/2013/10/12/withhold/ )
- If the job centre sends you on Mandatory Work Activity, contest the decision, contact us for support.
- We are campaigning to persuade charities and other employers to boycott the Work Programme and similar schemes – get in touch if you would like to get involved. Let us know which workplaces are using this unpaid forced labour.
- We appeal to all workers to pressure their employer to boycott workfare – these schemes attack everyone's wages and conditions.
Some of us have been sent on the Work Programme and we want to encourage unemployed people to join together to support each other and fight to improve our situation – get in touch if you're interested.
We will support anyone who wants to stand up for their rights against these injustices – see below for how to get in touch.
Let's make workfare unworkable!
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty
c/o Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA
Open meetings: last Monday of month at A.C.E. at 7.00pm. Drop-in for support and solidarity at ACE every tuesday 12 – 3pm Tel 0131 557 6242 - Tues aftn only