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Is workfare coming to Morrisons?
A Morrisons worker
The government's various workfare schemes force jobseekers to work for a company while being paid only their benefits.
This has been pushed through by the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government in the name of 'work experience', allegedly making young unemployed jobseekers employable. In reality, while young people are forced to work long hours for free or risk losing their benefits, big companies enjoy free labour and are not given any incentive to employ the exploited young person on a real contract at the end of the programme.
In a situation like we face in Britain today where 2.5 million are lining up at the dole queue, over a million of which are young people, workfare can also be used by the bosses to undercut real jobs, wages and terms and conditions for the already employed because there is always somebody who is going to be willing to work for less out of sheer desperation.
Along with zero-hour contracts, workfare undermines major gains won by the workers in the past such as holiday pay, sick pay and the minimum wage. It is fundamentally important that we organise to defeat such attacks.
Morrisons is a company that until now has not wanted to be associated with the bad publicity caused by protests against workfare. There has been such outrage that the list of companies using it grew shorter and shorter as companies dropped out.
A high court judgement even ruled that the way one of the schemes had been implemented was breaking the law. This victory in the courts was prepared by campaigning in working class communities and the unions. Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) was an important part of this. YFJ members debated on national, regional and local news channels and radio stations, organised protests inside and outside of participating companies and raised awareness over the issue.
All of this work resulted in mounting pressure on both the guilty companies and the government.
Morrisons is currently denying that it will use workfare but admits offering 'three day tasters sessions' which are sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the victims of such sessions and also the contracted workers.
Morrisons also claims it has no connection with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) although the DWP claims that the scheme is a partnership between the jobcentre and the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution).
Morrisons has also claimed that anybody refusing to take part in this scheme will not be sanctioned but since participants are to be recruited from jobcentres, Morrisons has no say over who would get sanctioned.
As disgusting as it for Morrisons to use free labour, the real worry is that the 'taster sessions' could be just the beginning and a way for the company to sneak in workfare through the back door.
In order to defend the interest of its members and to safeguard the wider community from exploitation, the shop workers union, Usdaw, must take a firm position against this scheme. Usdaw should raise awareness of the scheme and provide Morrisons workers with information about what it could potentially mean to their jobs.
Given the severity of the issue, Usdaw should not only demand that Morrisons does not use the scheme but should also be ready to ballot members for industrial action.
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