Bill Carmichael: ‘Slave labour’ is good experience

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THE news has been replete in the last couple of weeks with reports that young people are being forced to work without pay for supermarkets and budget stores such as Tesco and Poundland.

What! Slave labour in modern Britain! What a disgrace!

It might be worth taking a deep breath and looking at the story a little more closely before we get our collective knickers in a twist. If you do, you will quickly realise two things; firstly young people are not being forced to do anything, and secondly neither are they required to work unpaid.

In other words, the two central tenets of this tale turn out to be wrong. Other than that, the story was entirely accurate!

In fact, the scheme offers people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) work experience and training at reputable employers. Considering one of the reasons people may find themselves unemployed in the first place is because of a lack of experience and training, you might think this is a good thing. But claimants are not “forced” to do anything. The scheme is entirely voluntary. Neither is it unpaid.

Claimants continue to receive the JSA throughout the programme. So they are still paid, but the funding comes from the taxpayer rather than the employer.

Claimants are no worse off and could gain valuable experience at no cost to themselves that could help them find a job.

Volunteers to the scheme have a week’s cooling off period in which to decide whether it is right for them, during which they can pull out without penalty.

But if they fail to turn up or pull out of the scheme after that point, their benefits are docked. So in other words, if they don’t turn up, they don’t get paid. Is that so outrageous? Is there an employer on the entire planet who would be happy to keep paying the wages of a person who refused to turn up for work? Not surprisingly the scheme has proved a resounding success. Since January last year, about 34,000 young people aged 16-24 have taken part in the scheme and more than 50 per cent have come off benefits within 13 weeks – most of them into full-time jobs.

But that hasn’t stopped it causing apoplectic fury on the Left and silly allegations of “slave labour”.

A tiny number of fringe activists have mounted an effective campaign to bully companies into abandoning the scheme. A branch of Tesco has been “occupied” and a placard waving rabble has besieged McDonald’s and other stores. The BBC and the Guardian have covered this sympathetically, although both are happy to offer unpaid work experience to youngsters with the right connections. Isn’t that “slave labour” too?

So we have the unedifying experience of far Left campaigners, aided by their allies in the media, seeking to destroy a scheme that has provided tens of thousands of jobless youngsters with full-time employment.


A cruel trade

Spotted in Portcullis House close to the Palace of Westminster this week, David Miliband, looking singularly friendless, sitting alone, devoid of flunkies and hangers on and ignored by the press pack who were seeking bigger quarry.

A few hundred yards away, his brother Ed, who defeated David in the battle for the leadership of the Labour Party, largely thanks to trade union votes from the likes of Len McCluskey who wants his members to disrupt the Olympics, was doing battle in the House of Commons with David Cameron before the baying tribal mobs of opposing MPs.

The more I observe politicians the odder they seem, with huge egos and exceptionally thick skins. But looking at the elder Miliband, it was hard to escape the fact that politics can be a cruel game.