I say: those lovely people at Tesco have realised that it is wrong to employ people for nothing, who are showing up to work not because they’ll get paid but because if they don’t they’ll lose their benefits. (Turns out there were questions raised about this by the House or Lords in April 2011.)
So Tesco have decided…
Well, not to stop using free labour. They like that part.
In a statement from Tesco on Friday night, the company – which made £3.8bn in profits last year – said it wanted the scheme to be free from any sort of sanction.
“We understand the concern that those who stay in the scheme longer than a week risk losing their benefits if they drop out before the end of their placement,” Tesco said. “We have suggested to DWP that to avoid any misunderstanding about the voluntary nature of the scheme, this threat of losing benefit should be removed.”
That would be the evening of Friday 17th February 2012. Tesco signed up to make use of the slave labour provided by SBWA at latest by October 2011. For four months at least, they had no difficulty at all with the scheme that the Department of Work and Pensions would pay them to take workers for any store who would put in 30 hours a week, without Tesco having to pay them more than their bus fare. At least 1400 people were provided by the JobCentres, and Tesco admits that only 300 were actually hired – the remaining 1100 were simply let go back into the unpaid labour pool.
Tesco’s sudden concern over why they were getting so many hundreds of people to work for them for free, 30 hours a week for 4 weeks, without any real prospect of a job at the end of it, did not arise until on Wednesday night, Eoin Clarke at the Green Benches blog posted a link and screencapped an ad that Tesco Bury St Edmunds Superstore had posted for night shift workers who would cost Tesco a couple of bus fares for every shift, not nearly as expensive as actually hiring someone for nightshift work with all the health and safety niceties that employers are expected to pay for.
And on Thursday morning, UK Tesco woke up to a Twitterstorm the likes of which Gareth at their Twitter Customer Care feed had evidently never seen. Tesco’s Facebook page was getting a constant stream of angry comments which they could delete, but they could do nothing about the tweeters. Puffles the Dragon Fairy blogged about this on Thursday – he’s a nice dragon fairy, he felt sorry for the Tesco employee responsible for covering the @UKTesco twitterfeed during the working day.
Perhaps not surprisingly, by Friday evening Tesco had decided not to reject the free labour they get paid for, goodness no, but to try to finangle a way of making it look a little less like slave labour – not to go as far as paying minimum wage, but to get DWP to stop sanctioning people for turning down the opportunity to help out at Tesco.
Good luck with that, Tesco.
A JobCentrePlus whistleblower admitted last April that the new coalition government has brought with it a culture of reducing unemployment figures by setting JobCentre employees sanction targets:
A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months. He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices.
“Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said. “You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money.
The point of workfare is not to provide Tesco with a means of propping up their profits. It’s understandable that Tesco should see that as the main issue, but for the Tories and LibDems who endorse slave labour, the sanctions are an important part of the scheme.
Not just because sanctions cut benefit costs in the short term. But also because workfare is an essential part of the ideology of cheap-work conservatives:
The larger the supply of unemployed, the cheaper it is to hire workers. The more desperately you need a job, the cheaper you’ll work, and the more power the 1% have over you. If you are part of the wealthy elite – or are fool enough to imagine you might be someday – your wealth, power and privilege is enhanced by the vast majority forced to work cheap.