Retail commercial property chains Argos and Tesco have raised concerns about ‘slave labour’ over the new Government ‘Sector-Based Work Academy Scheme’.
The scheme allows long-term unemployed people who are currently receiving Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) to work in a commercial property or office for a period of time – unpaid. The scheme is completely voluntary, but if a participant doesn’t turn up for their work placement, or doesn’t attend regular job centre reviews, they could lose their JSA, which contradicts the scheme’s idea.
In a statement regarding the scheme, Argos stated: “We are in discussion with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure the scheme is voluntary, meeting the work experience needs of the individual, and will keep this dialogue going to ensure no one is disadvantaged by working on this programme.”
The Government believe the scheme will give the long-term unemployed an incentive to gain work experience or training whilst not jeopardising their benefits. However some critics have argued that the scheme is simply a way for large companies to gain ‘slave labour’.
Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister condemned the critics: “I think anyone who wants to condemn a scheme that helps people into work at a time of high unemployment really needs to think hard about their priorities. It is not slave labour. It is not compulsory. It is entirely voluntary.”
To combat the critics, Tesco have declared that anyone who accepts a work placement at one of their commercial properties will be taken on a four-week placement and if they meet satisfactory requirements, they will be offered a permanent job at the end of the placement.
Speaking of Tesco’s offer, Richard Brasher, Chief Executive said: “We know it is difficult for young people to give up benefits for a short-term placement with no permanent job at the end of it.
“The [sic] guarantee that a job will be available, provided the placement is completed satisfactorily, should be a major confidence boost for young people wanting to enter work on a permanent basis.”
According to Mr Clegg the scheme is already delivering promising results: “Fifty per cent of youngsters on the work experience scheme so far have found permanent work. That is something that I celebrate. Other people might choose to condemn it. I don’t.”
Do you think the scheme will help combat unemployment levels, or do you agree with critics that it is ‘slave labour’?