Despite being the focus of the court judgement of 12 February which ruled workfare regulations unlawful, Poundland continue to use unpaid labour. In a statement after the judgement, Poundland boss Jim McCarthy said
“Poundland recognises the importance of offering work experience to people looking to get back into work.
“We have been working in partnership with the Job Centre Plus over the last few months to launch our own work experience programme for those considering a career in retail. Our work experience programme is completely voluntary – no one has their benefits taken away from them at any point during the process. This programme replaces any involvement with the
Department of Work and Pensions prime providers and their work experience schemes.
“We currently have people taking part in work experience placements across 71 of our stores, and since launching the scheme, 20% have been offered a job with us”.
Their very own work experience programme? No involvement with the DWP? We weren’t so sure, so we asked their HR department if the participants were being paid for their work or were working for benefits. They said
We work solely with the Job Centre Plus to facilitate a voluntary Work Experience Programme for those considering a career opportunity in retail. As this is purely a voluntary programme supported by Job Centre Plus we do not pay a wage but at the same time no individual has their benefits taken away from them when attending the placements at Poundland.
So, their “own work experience programme” looks uncannily like the government’s Work Experience scheme. This scheme, alongside Sector Based Work Academies are what the government want you to think the term ‘workfare’ means, because are the least offensive of the workfare schemes. They tend to describe it as voluntary work experience for 18-24 year olds organised through the jobcentre.
The degree to which the scheme is genuinely voluntary is disputed as there are countless reports of lies and intimidation to get jobseekers to participate and after one week the scheme becomes mandatory. Although recently, to save face, the government, has emphasised the voluntary aspect and stated that sanctions would no longer be used against people who refuse to participate.
We won’t be fooled by Poundland’s weasel words. They’re still using unpaid labour. They tell us “no individual has their benefits taken away from them when attending the placements at Poundland.” They don’t tell us that dropping out of a Work Experience placement can lead to being put on other schemes like Mandatory Work Activity, or face losing benefits.
While Poundland wriggle, our message remains clear. If you exploit us, we’ll shut you down.