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Posted on 20 February 2012 at 10:54 GMT

Mass anger forces more companies to abandon workfare schemes

After protests hit London, Manchester and Leeds at the weekend, alongside an onslaught upon Tesco's presence in social media the company and others are feeling the squeeze. 99p Stores and Tk Maxx are the latest companies to drop out of the scheme, whilst Matalan is reviewing its participation in it, which comes on top of Sainsbury's and Waterstones.

Even Tesco was forced to complain to the government about the scheme being mandatory, although it is still happy to have people work for free (as the government continues to pay their JSA and any expenses).

The Department for Work and Pensions' Work Programme provider guidance states that those on JSA who are participating must do the work on a mandatory basis to avoid minimum wage regulations: "Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity.

"This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated" (www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wp-pg-chapter-3.pdf).

These schemes are an attack on the pay, terms and conditions of all retail workers, who in many cases only receive the minimum wage or just above it.

Although Tesco claims that the initial advert that started the storm of controversy, for a permanent night shift job in East Anglia paid at a rate of 'JSA + expenses', several other similar adverts have been found on the internet placed the day after this hit the media.

On Friday 17th February, adverts were placed for a 32 hour a week permanent job as a Customer Assistant at Tesco in Hoyland near Barnsley, with the wage being 'travel expenses', as well as for a permanent Retail Assistant at 25 hours per week for Superdrug in Fishponds Road, Bristol for 'JSA + expenses'.

Usdaw, the retail workers' union, has correctly demanded that anyone on such work experience placements should be paid the 'rate for the job' without compulsion.

It should take this a step further and support the protests that have been taking place outside Tesco stores over the company's participation in the scheme, as well as linking up with those like Youth Fight for Jobs to build a mass campaign against workfare.

Protesters should aim to build links with Usdaw reps in the stores they are protesting outside of. This is vital, as although the protests so far have forced several employers, including Tesco, onto the back foot, the only way to guarantee a permanent end to such schemes is to build strong, active union organisation across the retail sector that will not just end workfare, but get rid of the blight of low pay and understaffing that most retail workers have to suffer.

Youth Fight for Jobs is organising protests in the next few days outside Tesco stores and is taking part in the 'Boycott Workfare' campaign day of action on 3rd March.

Iain Dalton

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