Workfare protest outside city centre store
A small protest took place outside WH Smith in Bath on Saturday as a group of demonstrators vented their anger over a controversial Government employment scheme.
WH Smith is just one of a number of employers nationwide said to have signed up to a work experience scheme for the unemployed, dubbed Workfare by critics.
Critics of the scheme say it means unemployed people are in effect working for free with few actually ever being offered a job.
The two-hour protest brought together activists from a range of organisations including the Bath Anti-Cuts Alliance and the Black and Red Federation (B.A.R.F) who handed out leaflets outside the Union Street store and talked to shoppers about their opposition to the scheme.
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The protest had originally been planned to take place outside Holland & Barrett in Stall Street but was moved after the health food retailer pulled out of the scheme.
Protester Steve Jones said the scheme doesn't offer real training but sees participants doing retail jobs for free.
“They say it is to get people back into work and to give them experience but all the jobs they send people to are just retail work," he said.
“It gets employers used to the idea of people working for no pay.
“I think it will have the opposite effect of increasing confidence, and give people low self-esteem and confidence because they are working without pay.”
Fellow protester Jon Timbrell said he believed the scheme actually cost people jobs.
“I wanted to protest against the Workfare scheme,” he said.
“We are all in favour of training, everyone wants a decent job and to get training but the question is ‘Does this programme deliver it?’ "It is just a source of free labour and employers are saying 'Why bother to employ someone on a full time contract or pay overtime when there is free labour?'.”
A banner, saying ‘Workfare is slavery’ with a picture of shackles underneath, was held up by protesters.
Mike Tynan from London said he stopped to take a leaflet off protesters because he supported their action.
He said: I am a trades union representative at my work and my company is trying to bring in unpaid workers into the workplace.
“Anything below minimum wage is in my view unsavoury. Yes, people need work experience and people need to be in work but a full time job being done by someone on Jobseeker’s is completely unfair.”
The scheme means people receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance are asked to take part in the work experience scheme for up to six months. Waterstones, TK Maxx and Sainsbury’s have already pulled out of the scheme, with Tesco saying it would offer a job at the end of a successful four-week placement.
Employment minister Chris Grayling has criticised such protests: "It is a disgrace that anyone should seek to target a company that is trying to help young unemployed people in this way.
"The people involved in these protests have absolutely no idea of the damage they're doing to the job prospects of the next generation. I'm determined to stand up firmly against these protesters; what they're doing is totally unacceptable."