North London SolFed and Haringey Solidarity Group picketed Homes for Haringey on Wednesday 10th April. It was our second picket there over the use of workfare by the council housing provider and a charity Groundwork. After sacking one third of their gardening staff two years ago, they are now forcing benefit claimants to do the work for no pay.
The council are clearly ashamed of what they are doing. They were preventing their workers from talking to us. They also released a statement in which they tried to weasel out of their involvement in workfare. They confirmed the scheme existed but claimed it was voluntary and it didn't replace paid work. We've heard that before. The scheme may be officially voluntary but if someone refuses to participate they may be forced on another mandatory scheme as a punishment or sanctioned anyway. We know of at least one worker who was sanctioned for refusing to participate in the Groundwork scheme. It doesn't matter if the work done is above of what the council would normally do on the estates. People should be paid for doing it.
Workfare doesn't help the unemployed. Neither do volunteering, apprenticeships or other schemes under which people work for nothing or much less than minimum wage. They push the wages down for everyone and replace paid jobs. If the council wants to help unemployed in Haringey, they need to stop their involvement in workfare altogether. Until then we will be coming back with more pickets.
An excerpt from the statement e-mailed to us by an employee of the council:
"Groundwork has confirmed that taking part in the Green Team initiative is voluntary, it is not mandatory . Peoples' benefits are not affected if they do not want to participate [we know this to be false - claimants are sanctioned by the Job Centre for not turning up to workfare placements]. The programme is one of the options offered to people who are referred to Groundwork as being in need of work experience and training in order to help them find work.
This programme works alongside others delivered by Homes for Haringey, Groundwork and Haringey Council to create work placement, apprenticeship, volunteering and training opportunities to help support unemployed Haringey residents back into work."