No union should support workfare

Minimum wage: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

In the UK, if you are over 21, your employer must pay you a minimum wage of at least £6.08 per hour. If you are aged 18-20, your employer must pay you at least £4.98 per hour. If you are 16 or 17, the legal minimum is £3.68. And apprentice wages were lowered still further in October last year, to £2.60 per hour for all apprentices under 19 and all first-year apprentices regardless of age.

None of this now applies to people who are 16-24 and claiming JSA. They can now be made to provide 30 hours work a week for a month at a time, for what amounts to a wage of £1.76 per hour. This wage is not paid by their employers: it is provided by the government. The employers get paid by the government to “accept” this free labour.

I joined the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union in 1999, after some discussion with an adviser at the STUC about which union was more appropriate for my line of work. MSF got folded into Amicus and Amicus into UNITE, so I’m now a UNITE member. But I could easily have decided to join the Communication Workers Union in 1999. And it appalls me that any union would, on any justification, agree to endorse a policy of bringing in unpaid labour for weeks at a time.

Yet that’s just what CWU have done, adopting the corporate line that workfare is a “work experience programme”.

They’ve agreed that the Post Office can take up to 130 unpaid workers per Region annually. None will be paid by the Post Office, though all will have to put in at minimum a 25-hour week. None will have job security or any workplace benefits. None will be paid a legal wage. All will be on less than a legal apprentice minimum wage, and there is no obligation on Royal Mail’s part to treat them like apprentices.

How can any union agree to support this?

If there’s work to do, the people hired – even temp labour providing unskilled help – should be paid a minimum wage. No union should agree to support a two-tier system where some workers have proper wages and employment rights, and others do not. No union should agree to undercut the minimum wage.

You can contact the CWU Postal Department directly at CWU, 150 The Broadway, Wimbledon, SW19 1RX: If you are a CWU member you can use their feedback form. You can contact Dave Ward via The general contact details are Tel: 0208 9717 200; Fax: 020 8971 7300; Typetalk: 1800102089717200; and email:

Of course Royal Mail shouldn’t be cooperating with Chris Grayling’s Workfare programme either. You can contact them, too.

Update: Maria Miller’s claim that there “isn’t a shortage of jobs” exploded. Every workfare placement means one less job that can be applied for – and there are already 4 people on JSA to apply for every vacancy.

Dawn Willis points out how using unemployed labour can lead to a culture of workplace bullying – workfarers have no employment rights but have to keep their placement for 4 weeks or suffer benefit sanctions.

Midge Diabolik describes the futility of the Jobseekers Plus “Fast Track to Employment” course – a few useful classes spun out over two weeks mandatory attendance and then four weeks unpaid labour.

And Unemployed Hack vividly sums up how the real barrier to employment is the systematic removal of all benefits – even those the newly-hired will still be entitled to claim.

Full text of letter to all CWU branches:

Royal Mail Work Experience Programme

Branches are informed that the union has been in discussion with Royal Mail over a proposal for the business to participate in a government initiative to provide work experience to unemployed 16 – 24 year olds. The initiative coordinated by Job Centre Plus is designed to provide participants with an introduction to the world of work and enhance their prospects of finding employment in the future. Following extensive discussion and clarification the union is happy to support the initiative which will be deployed from January 2012 on the following basis.

  • Royal Mail will offer 10 placements per region.
  • Placements will be for duration of 4 weeks (25 – 30 hours per week).
  • Job Centre Plus will nominate candidates who will be subject to Royal Mail vetting procedures.

To ensure that the programme produces the optimum outcome for the participants with the minimum impact on normal operational arrangement, the following criteria have been agreed.

  • CWU IR and H&S Representatives will be informed in advance if a Work experience placement will take place in their unit.
  • Placements may be in Delivery units or Mail Centres and will be targeted on units where a Workplace Coach is in place.
  • Placements will avoid units where there is current Business Transformation revision activity.
  • CWU Reps will be invited to participate in induction meetings for Work Experience candidates, to explain the role of the union in the workplace.
  • Familiarisation training will primarily be undertaken by Workplace Coaches although some mentoring may be requested of members of staff. Participation in mentoring activities will be voluntary.

Following this initial deployment the programme will be the subject of a joint review between the Royal Mail and the CWU at national level prior to any further ongoing or expanded commitment.

To support the deployment the following Joint Statement has been agreed.

“Royal Mail has committed to participate in a new government initiative to offer young people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience within a business, which will have a positive impact upon their confidence, their employability and their future prospects. Following full consultation on the detail of the initiative the CWU are pleased to support the Royal Mail Work Experience Programme and would encourage our representatives and members to ensure that the Work Experience participants placement with Royal Mail is a positive experience that will reconnect them to the world of work.”

Any enquiries on the above LTB should be addressed to the DGS (P) Department quoting reference NC/24005.

Yours sincerely

Dave Ward
Deputy General Secretary (P)


Filed under Benefits

3 responses to “No union should support workfare

  1. Fiona Menzies

    Good stuff Jane completely agree

  2. saw this on RMC a web site for posties,disgraceful and appalling that the union that i have been very proud to have been a member of for 21 years is
    involved in this scam,ive contacted Billy Hayes and will be doing the same for Dave Ward,also hope to raise the matter with my branch Scotland No2,who have a great record of solidarity with the union movement

    • I think it’s absolutely disgraceful that any union should be supporting workfare. Even if they’re trying to bill this as a “work experience scheme”, the people providing their labour should be supported by the union to get paid minimum wage for the hours they do – by their employer, not by the DWP.

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