Boycott Workfare Protest

October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Protestors will dress as prisoners in a chain gang in a demonstration tomorrow afternoon against the government’s Work Programme.  

Their outfits will be adorned with corporate logos to highlight their belief that the government’s welfare reforms are creating ‘forced labour’ in the UK.

The protest, taking place outside the Welfare to Work conference in Islington, is organised by the group Boycott Workfare. They are campaigning to challenge the government’s workfare schemes, and the organisations involved in them.

The government’s Work Programme, or ‘workfare’ scheme, encourages those on job benefits to take part in mandatory unpaid work.

A list, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by a member of the public in July this year, names companies, organisations and corporations involved in unpaid work schemes. Included in this list are supermarkets Sainsburys and Asda and retailer Poundland.

Boycott Workfare believes that forcing people on the job seekers allowance (JSA) to do unpaid work is unacceptable. Joanna Long, spokeswoman for Boycott Workfare, said,

“Workfare schemes are not about getting people back to work: they are about plugging the gaps left by cuts to public services and boosting the profits of corporations.”

The group is encouraging businesses and organisations not to participate in workfare schemes, and asks them to sign a pledge to boycott the schemes.

Boycott Workfare has uploaded onto their website a list of testimonials from people who have been mistreated while participating in the workfare schemes.

The testimonial from a Bangladeshi woman, Karina”, said her job centre told her that if she did not partake in the workfare scheme, her JSA would be cut.

“I told them my English was not good, but they said: ‘it doesn’t matter, you have to go. If you’re not going, we’ll stop your money.’”

She then worked at Primark for six months, performing the same tasks as paid employees –including picking up and folding clothes – without pay from the company.

At the end of the six months placement Karina handed her CV into Primark asking if they had any jobs available. She was informed they did not and would hear from the company if any vacancies came up. She has still not received a call.

Media liaison for Boycott Workfare, Anne-Marie O’Reilly, points out that it is difficult for people to speak out about their experiences on the workfare schemes.

“Very few people are willing to risk exposure by talking to the media directly,” she said.

The protest tomorrow is not the first that Boycott Workfare has organised. In June this year the group targeted the ‘Making Work Pay’ conference. Due to Boycott Workforce’s demonstration, the conference was forced to relocate.

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