25 February 2012     

Reviewing the situation

By Lynda Walker

In the 11 February edition of Unity the question of benefit reform and low wages was examined. It was noted that the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, seemed to be pleased that McDonald's would be opening 24 hours a day, creating 2,500 jobs, more than half of which will go to under-25s.
     We concluded: “Reducing benefits to levels below poverty is preparing the workforce to work for peanuts.” In fact Unity overlooked the “Unpaid Work Scheme” (UWS) which is at present in force in the UK. This has come under criticism from Tesco and other companies, like Waterstones, TK Maxx and others (mostly in the retail industry), who are participants in UWS.
     The scheme, aimed at 18 to 24-year-olds, requires people to work not for peanuts but for nothing. Under the guise of “work experience,” young people can “agree” to work for Tesco and other big companies; but if they walk away from the scheme too early the job-seeker’s allowance can be withdrawn. Tesco and others are now reviewing the situation.
     The demand should be that if there is work and training to be done there should be wages to go with it. Will McDonald’s “new jobs” be part of the “Unpaid Work Scheme”? We could also ask if this work experience includes informing the worker of their right to join a union, of health and safety education and equality training. It comes to something when a big business like Tesco has to ask the government to drop the rule allowing JSA to be withdrawn. It shows that the Right to Work campaigners are having some effect.
     Under another scheme the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, made an announcement on Tuesday the 22nd that £126 million will be spent to tackle youth unemployment for the 55,000 16 to 17-year-olds who are out of education and out of work. Charities and businesses will be invited to bid for contracts worth up to £2,200 to take on young people.
     Several teaching unions have condemned this “initiative,” and Merseyside TUC has described it as “the modern-day example of youth training scheme-style exploitation." Incidentally, the £126 million is somewhat less than the estimated £180 million turnover that the company A4e had, which, according to reliable sources, comes entirely from government contracts funded by the taxpayer. A4e facilitated the “Welfare to Work” scheme, and they are now under investigation for fraud. The founder, Emma Harrison, received over £8 million in dividends, again all from government contracts. That is what capitalism is all about: daylight robbery one way or another.
     Regarding training schemes, the Government has learnt nothing from the years of “training” that produced little more than frustration on the part of the trainers and trainees. Northern Ireland’s youth experienced this in the 1980s when the Youth Training Programme was introduced. The school leaving age was increased from 16 to 18, and thousands of 16-year-old school-leavers were denied benefit unless they joined a training programme.
     Workshops like Glenand at Andersonstown and Brown Square on the Shankill were set up. In Boucher Road Government Training Centre the trainees—mostly boys—spent hours building brick walls, dismantling them, and rebuilding them. Books could, and should, be written about these experiences.
     At the end of the day most young people want a decent job with decent pay. It would be too much to discuss here the isolation and negative attitudes that capitalist culture enforces on our youth; but that is all part of the same problem.

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