Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The problem with work-for-dole

When the UK government introduced a work-for-dole scheme, it looked like a win-win. Those lazy shiftless unemployed people (and the disabled and mentally ill) would be forced to go out and do something in exchange for the assistance they were receiving. And major high street retailers such as Tescos and Argos would receive a source of free labour, subsidising their profits in a recession. Fortunately, it hasn't worked out that way:

The government's back-to-work scheme appears to be in disarray after Tesco announced it would immediately offer a wage to all benefits claimants working unpaid in its stores, and several big chains reported they were suspending involvement in the programme.

Tesco said that although it was sticking with the coalition's work experience scheme, it would now offer jobseekers a choice of remaining on benefits or taking up paid work with a guarantee of a staff job at the end of the four-week placement if the trial was successful.

Meanwhile, Argos and Superdrug said they were suspending their involvement pending talks with ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the scheme, which has been personally championed by senior coalition figures, is voluntary and that jobseekers would no longer fear having their benefits removed if they pulled out of placements after the first week.

Other major participants are reviewing their participation in the scheme. And the reason is simple: reputational risk. "Employing" people on work-for-dole looks like slave labour, not a look any image-conscious retailer wants to have. Not to mention that it pretty obviously removes any pressure to create real jobs. Campaigners in the UK have exploited this perfectly, hitting these parasitic multinationals where it hurts, and forcing them to provide real jobs rather than exploiting the unemployed.