As part of the International Workers Association (IWA) days of action against austerity, exploitation, and oppression, the Solidarity Federation will be launching a national campaign against Workfare. On the 29th & 30th March, Solidarity Federation Locals will leaflet companies using the Workfare scheme advising workers of their rights. On the 31st March one national company will be targeted with coordinated nationwide pickets and a communications blockade with the aim of forcing the company to stop using Workfare. The name of the target company will be announced a few days prior to the 31st March to ensure the company cannot prepare against the planned actions.
The Solidarity Federation is launching a national campaign against Workfare as the scheme amounts to little more than a modern form of slave labour. Under the government’s various Workfare schemes unemployed workers are made to work for free for up to 6 months with no guarantee of a job afterwards. They are forced to work on these schemes or risk losing welfare payments.
The government claims that Workfare provides people with valuable workplace experience that will make it much easier for them to find permanent employment. But this is just lies. Even the governments own research found that Workfare schemes made it harder not easier for jobseekers to find work.
A UK Government study into Workfare in the USA, Canada and Australia found that Workfare can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers. The same study also found that Workfare is particularly ineffective at leading to work during periods of high unemployment.
Rather than providing real paid training that will help jobseekers find permanent jobs, the workfare scheme is a massive source of free labour for some of the biggest companies in Britain. The government intends 250,000 workfare placements which amounts to millions of hours forced unpaid work which companies use to replace permanent staff.
For example the British company Holland and Barrett recently announced that they would be taking on over a thousand people through Workfare schemes. This will mean that unpaid staff is set to make up a huge percentage of the company’s total workforce which was last year was estimated to be 3,586 people strong.
The Government is planning to extend Workfare to ensure that the unemployed can be used to replace public sector workers. They are currently piloting a new scheme, the Community Action Program, which will enable Local Councils and Government Departments to begin taking on the unemployed under the Workfare scheme. Due to government austerity cuts it is predicted that there will be 500,000 public sector job losses over the next five years. It is clear that the government intends to use Workfare to replace the gaps left in public service by these massive job losses.
The government hopes to refer some 850,000 people to the various Workfare schemes by the end of this year. The aim of the Government is to use the estimated 6 million unemployed as an unwaged reserve army, it can utilize to drive down the pay and conditions of the working class as a whole.
But the Government’s Workfare scheme is being met with growing opposition. Already coordinated direct action has forced a number of retail giants, such as Tesco, to pull out of the Workfare scheme.
The Solidarity Federation is aiming to use the IWA days of action against austerity, exploitation and oppression to launch a campaign that will build on the successful actions already taken against Workfare. Over the coming months we hope to build a campaign of direct action that will force increasing number of companies to withdraw from Workfare, leaving the government with no choice but abandon it’s attempt to use unemployed workers as slave labour.
International Secretary of the SF-IWA