Tuesday 14 February 2012

Fair Play For Fair Pay

Another sign of the imminent collapse of the Coalition’s ill-fated Work Programme appeared this week, as major High Street retailers Sainsbury’s and Waterstone’s pulled out of the work experience arm of the scheme. It’s certainly one of the more controversial ideas this government has cooked up.

The scheme effectively forces job-seekers into unpaid work for big-name stores for up to six months – without pay and with no guarantee of a job afterwards.

Worryingly, some charities have also started down the same path. One of them, with a blithe lack of irony, recently advertised for an intern position that only paid out local fares and a lunch allowance. These charities defend their decision by claiming that interns have access to training and contacts that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Surely any reputable employer would offer these benefits on top of a living wage. Claiming otherwise is a dangerous game, particularly for charities campaigning for fair pay and conditions in the Third World.

Unions are currently negotiating with the big-brand firms involved in the scheme, and a case is currently going through the High Court involving student Cait Reilly, who argues that she was made to work unpaid in Poundland, contrary to the forced labour provisions in the Human Rights Act.

With this in mind, it seems that any charity involved in the scheme has put themselves in an untenable position. Any decent employer can find a way of balancing the budget that doesn’t include the exploitation of vulnerable young people. Any that do while simultaneously campaigning for worker’s rights abroad shouldn’t be surprised if they face charges of double standards – or downright hypocrisy.

For more, check out this piece by Brendan Martin in the Guardian.

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