New Orwellian Economy: UK Graduates Made to ‘Stack Shelves’ for Free

December 13, 2011

A graduate is taking legal action against the government over a scheme which she says forces people to do unpaid work.

Cait Reilly, a University of Birmingham geology graduate, is currently trying to find work in the museum sector.

The 22-year-old said she had to work for free at a Poundland store for two weeks or risk losing her benefits.

She is seeking a judicial review. Poundland said the scheme is operated in partnership with the government.

It involves provide pre-employment training, a work placement and a guaranteed interview as a way of improving a person’s employability.

‘Positive step’

The government has said the work experience offered through the scheme is with good employers providing real opportunities for employment.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is due to respond to Ms Reilly’s case on 14 December.

Poundland said in a statement its work experience is designed to help people find work in the retail sector.

“These Orwellian schemes are about work for its own sake rather than for any greater purpose”Jim Duffy – Ms Reilly’s solicitor

The company said: “We work in partnership with JobCentre Plus and other government funded organisations to implement a comprehensive work placement programme designed to provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a career opportunity.

“Our partnership with JobCentre Plus is a positive step to get people back into work. It doesn’t replace our recruitment activity, but adds to the number of colleagues we have working with us.”

Public interest lawyers, acting on behalf of Ms Reilly, have sent a letter-before-action, the first stage in a potential judicial review, challenging the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011.

A spokesman for the law firm said Ms Reilly was told in November of an opportunity to attend an open day about job vacancies that could lead to a week’s training and a job interview.

Scheme ‘pointless’

He said when she attended the open day she discovered the training would last up to six weeks, including a two-week, unpaid retail placement.

When she expressed concerns about the lack of relevance of the scheme to the work she wants to do, she said her Jobcentre Plus adviser had told her participation in the scheme was mandatory and that if she did not comply she would lose her benefits.

She said she spent two weeks cleaning and stacking shelves at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, and was not offered an interview.

“I think it’s a form of manual labour in that they’re forcing people to do jobs that are in no way related to what they want to do and giving them no experience for their careers,” she said.

Jim Duffy, Ms Reilly’s solicitor, said: “Everyone agrees on the need to help the unemployed back into work, but forcing young people into pointless, unpaid labour at massive retailers who could easily afford to pay them the minimum wage demeans and frustrates them when we should be empowering and supporting them.

“These Orwellian schemes are about work for its own sake rather than for any greater purpose.”


4 Responses to “New Orwellian Economy: UK Graduates Made to ‘Stack Shelves’ for Free”

  1. Mariel Says:

    Doesn’t say why she has “benefits”. Working in this apparently deadend job would keep her from interview time at employers whose work had meaning for her, career wise. However, it seems OK to require those getting “benefits” to work if they are able bodied.

    Are these unemployment benefits which she got from being laid off elsewhere? We are going to have an army of those laid-offs whom the economy must support.

  2. Exposé Says:

    Highly educated, skilled and trained people assisted by the state being parceled out, like mules, to ‘business’ willy-nilly and forced to clean toilets? Chairman Mao would be proud.

    Why can’t someone, somewhere tell it like it is? Slave labour, if not revenge for being unemployed in a slump created by democrats and exacerbated by nuLabour.

    What else could the politicians, civil servants and said ‘business’ have been thinking? Mere cosmetics and tabloid ‘reader polls’? Hmm. Probably.

  3. Rae Merrill Says:

    This is slave labour. These companies have no intention of employing these kids. Why would you when you have a supply of free labour? And what kind of work experience do you get cleaning toilets and stacking shelves? The only benefit is instilling the work ethic but providing this labour for free is unethical as it keeps the unskilled out of a paying job apart from anything else.

  4. Eowyn Rohan Says:

    As an unemployed graduate, who may be conscripted onto the Work Programme, if at any stage I am instructed by Job Centre Plus to work for an employer for nothing, then I would have no hesitation in reporting to the employer my intention to take that employer to the Industrial Tribunal to clam Back Pay – a strategy which other candidates have adopted.

    Of course, the employer will save themselves £20K-£30K per annum whenever they can find some willing slave to work for nothing. Plus the slave has to be supported, either by the Bank of Mam and Dad or Taxpayer (cost about £15K per annum per candidate). Plus the candidate placed will occupy a job which could easily be administered by an unemployed candidate, which costs another £15K per annum per candidate.

    Total Loss to the State for every salaried job replaced by slave labour is of the order of £50K-£60K per annum.

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