21 Feb 2012

Tesco offers paid placements after ‘exploitation’ claims

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

As more companies reconsider the government’s unpaid work experience scheme, Tesco decides to offer paid placements – and advises ministers to remove the sanctions for participants who drop out.

After a series of protests at Tesco stores claiming the company was exploiting people on jobseeker’s allowance, Tesco today announced that it would pay people taken on its work experience schemes, rather than just continue to take on unpaid jobseekers through the government’s scheme.

However Tesco is not the only company to reconsider participation in the government’s scheme, which has been going for one year. TK Maxx, Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, Matalan and Superdrug all chose not to take part, with Maplins joining them last night.

Burger King, Pizza Hut and the charity Mind are reviewing their involvement in the scheme, while Argos told Channel 4 News it is currently negotiating with the Department of Work and Pensions over the nature of the programme.

“We are in discussion with the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure the scheme is voluntary, meeting the work experience needs of the individual, and will keep this dialogue going to ensure no one is disadvantaged by working on this programme,” a spokesman told Channel 4 News.

Unpaid work experience or free labour?

Tesco has so far provided 1,500 placements through the government’s work experience scheme and pledged to offer 3,000.

However there has been a backlash against the scheme in recent days, particularly because participants are not paid by the companies who take them on – despite being obliged to work for 30 hours a week – and over the condition that jobseeker’s allowance can be removed if participants fail to complete the placement.

The move follows a defence of the company, and of the government’s programme, by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who said the company was being targeted by the “intellectual elite” and “job snobs”.

However the Department of Work and Pensions denied the move by Tesco was a snub and said any additional scheme “can only be a good thing”.

From now on, Tesco will offer applicants a four-week paid placement with a job guarantee if the candidate completes it “satisfactorily”.

Risk of losing benefits

Young people will still be able to participate in the government scheme at Tesco, but the company advised the government that “the risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed”.

“We know it is difficult for young people to give up benefits for a short-term placement with no permanent job at the end of it,” said Richard Brasher, CEO of Tesco UK.

“So this guarantee that a job will be available provided the placement is completed satisfactorily, should be a major confidence boost for young people wanting to enter work on a permanent basis.”

The Department of Work and Pensions said that a handful of companies are negotiating the terms of the programme with the government.

A spokesperson told Channel 4 News that the work placement is voluntary, “but if you choose to do it, we expect people to complete their obligation”.

“It gives people who have no experience of work – it gives them that discipline,” he said, adding that the “sanctions” of having benefits removed, only affects a small minority of participants.

The government announced the launch of another work experience scheme on Tuesday, aimed at specifically at 16 and 17-year-olds.