Oct 292012

I started working for May Gurney (more here) a few weeks ago now.  My induction pack consisted of a glossy A4-sized all-colour pamphlet.  I was given no face-to-face training and was obliged to coach my team’s colleagues myself.

The experience has not been a happy one.  As my place of work is on the first floor of the building in question, it’s involved leaving several bags of rubbish throughout the week in what is supposed to be the most hygienic area of all: the kitchen.  I’ve had to learn – by myself – to separate out a complex combination of not always intuitively dissimilar waste and work out how to distribute it between five different containers.

There used to be two – tops three – in my previous employment.

So how do my current working conditions really stack up then?

Beforehand, we had essentially two containers – and really no training required.  Afterwards, we had five containers, a 12-page training booklet, an obligation to teach four other team members (ie my family) how to carry out the outsourced tasks in question – and really no training provided.

I remember, about thirty-five years ago, seeing a similar system at work in Austria.  As a kid, I looked on it very positively and optimistically – and asked myself when we would have a similar opportunity here in Britain.  In Austria, it was a community thing, designed to make the local council operate better; the local environment become cleaner; and in general support our hopes for a shared and more sustainable future.

So why do I now resist so strongly working for a corporation such as May Gurney?

Firstly, because I wasn’t consulted – the collaboration and hard work required from myself and my team (ie my family) were hijacked by my local council and imposed upon me and them.

Secondly, because May Gurney is looking primarily to make money for its shareholders: it’s a business, not a charitable or community-focussed institution.

Thirdly, because – at least according to the media reports – May Gurney isn’t able to run this outsourced process as a going concern.  At least, not in Bristol or – in my case – Chester, it would seem.  So as I am, in a kind of a way, now an outsourced employee of the company, how on earth am I going to feel positive about anything they’re doing?

Working-conditions like these all workers can do without.  Especially with respect to unpaid and outsourced drudge-tasks such as these.

Talk about workfare.

What do we call this then?  A job, role and series of procedures you can never get sacked from – however hard you try.

Slavery anyone?

Feb 292012

It may, after all, not be slave labour in the way it was under that Orwellian regime of Stalin’s.  But compulsory unpaid work is clearly breaching some kind of moral and societal contract – whether imposed by the state or the private sector itself.  If you believe what’s going on isn’t as right as it should be, consider the message above.  And if after considering the choices, you do decide to join Labour, click here for more information.

Update to this post: Paul has just posted a piece on “mandatory work activity” (even the euphemisms are Orwellian, aren’t they?).  In it, he points out the following:

Further to my complaint to the BBC about its handling of this press release, I submitted a FOI request to DWP seeking details on how the supposed £1bn Youth Contract was made up.  The request was made well before the latest revelations about “workfare”.

Yesterday I received my reply.  This stated:

The Get Britain Working measures includes Work Experience, sector-based work academies and Mandatory Work Activity.

Nowhere in the November press release was Mandatory Work Activity mentioned.  This suggests DWP were keen to keep its part in the Youth Contract secret.

More importantly, this means that the DWP’s claim that the scheme is “for every 18 to 24 year-old who wants one“ must be a direct lie, since clients are forced into Mandatory Work Activity on the claim that they do not want to engage.

The rest of the post is truly well worth your time.  Please read it, especially those of who you voted Tory at the last election.  You can then repent, if you are of a mind, at your leisure …

Feb 182012

There’s been much movement on Twitter and other social media over the past couple of days as Tesco and other companies have admitted to using workfare (more here).  To be fair to Tesco, public outrage does seem to have had an impact as it is now asking the government to ensure any such schemes become entirely voluntary.  But voluntary is as voluntary does.  And the principle of workfare, once established, may quite easily continue to be used against the vulnerable and unemployed in our society – whether, in principle, it is considered voluntary or not.

It would seem, therefore, that slavery – of a kind – is returning to our shores.  Which makes the website Slavery Footprint evermore relevant. Take the test and compare your result.  For my standard of living, for the gadgets I’ve bought, for the few clothes and shoes I own, they calculate that at least forty people across this 21st century world are currently working in conditions of slavery.  That is to say, I inhabit the society I do – as I do – because forty other people find themselves existing in a living hell on earth.

Which brings me to my final point tonight.  Do you remember the story last year about the supermarket bullies and how they were driving farmers and suppliers out of business through abuse of their monopolistic positions?  Well, it did occur to me this morning that what we really need is yet another piece of ethical and informative labelling on our food products.

No.  Not more data telling us how everything we like is bad for us.  Rather, a percentage indication of how much of the final cost to the consumer went to the farmers and suppliers.  This would then allow us to determine – in a Fair Trade-like kind of way – where we would be best leaving our hard-earned cash on that inevitably weekly shop.

If slavery – of a kind – must return to our shores in this and other ways, at least let us fight back with the best tool we have to hand: a free and just flow of consumer information for the benefit of the whole supply chain which finds itself supposedly at our service.

In fact, it does also occur to me – in the light of the recent workfare stories – that we might have to add yet another piece of labelling to our already overloaded products and services: the differential paid by the company in question between its lowest and highest-remunerated personnel.

But more of that anon, I think …