Top retailers scooping unpaid workers from heaving UK dole heap

17 November 2011


Some of Britain’s biggest high street names are winning the battle against the economic downturn by bolstering their staff levels with young, unpaid jobseekers. Tesco, Poundland, Argos and Sainsbury’s are among those that are taking advantage of the scheme, which is part of the government’s work experience programme.

A report in The Guardian has revealed that young job-hunters are being given placements of as long as two months in length at the stores with no pay, as they are exempt from minimum wage laws for up to eight weeks. Following a one-week ‘cooling off’ period, they are expected to work, unpaid, for the remainder of the placement, or risk losing their benefits.

But there seems to be some confusion, with some retailers saying that they believed the scheme was entirely voluntary and that slaves, sorry, placement workers were free to leave at any time. Similarly, some of the ‘volunteers’ have said that they weren’t informed about the cooling-off period and have found themselves working as shelf-stackers and shop-tidiers for 30 hours a week for nothing more than their £53 Jobseeker’s Allowance.

21-year-old James Rayburn has just spent seven weeks slogging his guts out for nothing in his local Tesco. He told The Guardian: “I was basically doing what a normal member of staff does for Tesco. I had the uniform and I was in the staff canteen. I obviously got access to the food and drinks in the staff canteen … that's what they let you do … but I got nothing else apart from that. I was there doing it as if I walked into the store and said, 'Look I'll help.'"

Employment minister Chris Grayling has defended the scheme, saying: "Our work experience scheme is proving to be a big success with over half of young people leaving benefits after they have completed their placement. It is not mandatory but once someone agrees to take part we expect them to turn up or they will have their benefits stopped.”

So then Bitterwalleteers, is this just a case of large, profit-making stores taking advantage of people and using them as unpaid help or is it a good thing that job-hunters are being handed an opportunity to get out of bed in the mornings, even if they’re getting no remuneration for their efforts? Should we bring back hanging?

Turn your thoughts into words and put them in the box below. DO IT NOW.


  • Alexis
    To be fair, everybody struggles to get a job at first because they have no experience. Unpaid work placements make sense, although it would fairer if such rich employers at least gave them something if they get to the end of the 8 weeks. I worked for about 6 months, unpaid, when I left university.
  • JonB
    I agree with Alexis. A bonus at the end of the placement would be fairer. I think the shops should also foot the benefits bill, or at least contribute towards it (say 50%?).
  • spyro
    while useful to build up experience to put on your cv to help you find paid work, if the work experience is shelf stacking then one would have to question how useful that experience actually is. Gets them off the dole for a bit though and who knows, maybe some of those unpaid roles will convert into paid work ? ( ie perform well during that period and maybe the shop will hire you ? ). It's less than ideal but it's better than nothing.
  • Tom
    Unpaid work placements are pretty common now, with many people doing so either during their university as a placement year or summer placement, or immediately afterwards. They benefit by getting genuinely useful work experience and building up contacts for future employment. Working in Tesco for 8 weeks may at least be a foot in the door for general employment, so I see that it might work in principle. To take a wider view, are there fewer jobless people as a result of the scheme? "over half of young people leaving benefits after they have completed their placement". Does this mean that nearly half of young people are working for nothing and then not getting employed afterwards, ever?
  • The B.
    I'm going to get abuse for it but... If you're long term unemployed then you should have to do a minimum number of hours (say 20 hours) per week voluntary work for local concerns, this would give you a bit of work experience, minimise the amount of cash in hand work going on, give something back to the community that's paying for your dole in the first place and hopefully give you a bit of confidence and self respect (unless of course you're working in a hospital having to clear up other peoples excrement which a couple of people I know had to do during their work experience at school).
  • Dick
    @Dick - I agree, long term unemployed should do something for the community that pays their dole money. But it should be for the community, not for business.
  • Dick
    @Bob, not @Dick. I am a dick.
  • Dick
    Should be @Bob, not @Dick. I am a dick.
  • The B.
    @Dick, no @Bob, no @Dick. Yep, Tesco can pay for it as can any major corporation, I can understand unpaid vocational training but shelf stacking is not vocational training, it's free labour.
  • MinWageDude
    They should be paid minimum wage if they are working - if the dole office wants to sweeten the deal for the employers to give these people a break then thats fine, but as far as I am concerned its pretty unjustifiable especially considering the profit these industries are making.
  • klingelton
    @bick (amalgim of the 2 names) it's not free labour, its a transfer of tax payer wealth into the pocket of the supermarkets in a round about way. however look at it long term. if it gets these people off benefits long term, then the short term cost is negligable, esp. given they'd receive the benefits ANYWAY. i sincerely hope this exposes the workshy amongst britains youth and encourages them into work.
  • Argartu
    Experience is always worth something. And if you are unemployed, could you be doing anything better with your time?
  • wtf
    So if a large store had 4 placements (free workers) then that would be 4 permanent jobs gone.......Fucking brill idea. Who the fuck thought of that one they will prob get a knighthood.
  • The B.
    @klingelton - if it gets these people off benefits long term, then the short term cost is negligable That's the crux of it though, it's a big if, there's not really enough info above to give a clear view of exactly what's going on, are Tesco fleecing the welfare system or are they actually doing something worthwhile. The only info we get is "Our work experience scheme is proving to be a big success with over half of young people leaving benefits after they have completed their placement" , which means what exactly? They refused to go back and had their benefits stopped? They got a job? It's classic civil service gobbledygook spun to make them sound good without actually giving any information away.
  • DIck
    @klingeton. The problem is that tesco/asda/sainsburys know that they only need to employ a few "skilled" shelfstackers, and the rest can be benefit receivers. Once they have done their two months, the supermarket will get rid of them, to get the next group of benefits people in, and so on. The "skilled" ones will be there to ensure continuity, and that stuff goes on the right shelf. The unskilled ones will hump the goods around. The supermarket will get a large proportion of its shelf-stacking done at the tax payers expense and learn not to employ stackers, since they have an unending supply of people on benefits. I'd prefer them to help the community - clearing litter, graffiti, doing the bins, etc. This would help reduce council expense, and hence reduce council tax bills and thus the amount paid by tax payers. Which of course, is where their benefits actually come from.
  • Alex
    Why would any of the shops employ them after the 8-week period, when they could just get more freebies in...
  • PlatinumPlatypus
    What most of the above don't seem to get is that if Tesco et al were not benefiting from the provision of this free labour, they would have to employ more staff. The work still needs doing! Schemes like this should not benefit businesses, as it can only suppress the supply of jobs.
  • debbie
    I would just like to say it is not only the young that are expected to work for just your JSA .I am 58 and am told that i have to do work experience or lose my £65 a week ! i have to work up to 30 hours a week with no chance of being kept on afterwards ,i aks you do i honestly need work experince at my age ! With christmas coming up it is quite obvious why stores are joining this sceme they dont have to pay for extra staff they get them for free ,so therefore less paid jobs for people searching for work ! What the hell is this goverment doing to this country !!!!! I think it is is time for people to stand up for there rights and working for £2 ish an hour is not RIGHT !!!!!
  • lifeisunfairlove
    @debbie stop your fucking moaning get off your fat arse and get a job then maybe you wont have to work 30 hours a week for nothing instead off the honest tax payers keeping you, SLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG
  • Stevw
    Its great, in theory, but it relies on the corporations not taking advantage. Which has as much chance of happening as an MP refusing an expenses form.
  • debbie
    lifeisunairlove ...its people like you who ruin this county ...god knows how you were bought up ...and i bet you dont work ! i have worked for the past 40 years and paid my taxes .Grow up and do you think your stupid remarks are clever ...thank god not all young people are like you ,you are just the minority of brainless morons your mother is so proud of you !!!!!!
  • shutitandtidyup
    I am part of the great unclean too. After doing 13 years service between leaving school, going to uni and ending up with excellent grades - couldn't find a job in my desired vocation - so reverted to working at a high street department/food store *ahem* and got caught in the cycle. Aged 29, couldn't bear the thought of not achieving my dreams -but was made redundant (through no fault of my own - and got screwed in the redundancy payment). If the Job Centre asked me to start doing this work for £2/hour - I'd tell them where to stick it and scrape by. It's disgusting. After years of N.I. contributions - you'd think the state would cut you some slack when you needed it. Unfortunately - when I now go for jobs, I'm apparently 'over qualified' to stack shelves - but there is nothing available higher up the chain. It's a catch 22 situation. So fuck it - I'll sit on my 67.50 a week and keep signing on with my shitty little paper full of lies of 'jobs I've applied for' until I'm good and ready.
  • Mark H.
    @ Dick So you want the unemployed to do community service? Isn't that currently reserved as a punishment for breaking the law? I'm sure you'd have a different opinion if you were ever in that position.
  • Dick
    @Mark H, no I want them to work for their benefit. They take money from the state without giving anything back. They have lots of time on their hands, so some of that should be spent on the community. I have no problem with them being paid at minimum wage. That £67.50 equates to about 11 hours work per week. There is surely time in the week of an unemployed person to do one day / 8 hours work, or maybe two 5 hour sessions. You get your money, you get experience, the community gets something back. . Dole money isn't much - and yet their is a culture of "why bother working" amongst some unemployed. I know many people are genuinely looking for work, and taking one day out of their week is not going to stop that. For the rest that cannot be bothered to work, they will either not work at all, so they should not be paid any benefits, work those 8/10/11 hours and receive payment for their work or decide they may as well get a full time job. It doesn't even have to be working in a council type position. I'd prefer to see unemployed people working / volunteering for a couple of days a week for a bona fide charity than working essentially full time for tesco and sainsburys. At least that way, they have fed something back to the community (or Big Society) in return for their benefit money, rather than staying at home all day.
  • Laurance
    In my present company. I am the only paid employee. I started as a 3 month Intern, and I believe despite my hard work during my internship (often working 9 - 8pm). They used my design skills, my technical know-how, and put it all in to products. I would not have been kept on if another staff member hadn't left the position. The owners... rely on free work from so called "interns". They do real jobs, and all they get is "travel expenses" It's beyond pathetic, the only reason I am still working here is because I can't afford to leave. I'm 25 and this is my first job outside of university. The owners have an appalling sense of work ethic, and work everyone to the bone, they give them the interns they will employ them at the end of their Internship, only to turn around and say they can't afford to keep them on. Students, are desperate to get on the job ladder, and hope that doing unpaid work will help them get on to the job ladder. You can not possibly learn enough in three months to say you have experience in the field. This year alone has seen as many as 14 interns, and myself working as a full-time member. (My pay works out as less than £8 an hour). Companies such as mine should be blacklisted and fined for this arrogant and soul-less moral behaviour, and prevented to "employ" interns again.
  • Dick
    @Laurance - you could of course spill the beans and tell the interns privately that they will not be taken on, and that they are wasting their time.
  • TimB
    Some politician has got to be getting paid off by a few company directors here. They're effectively taking actual jobs, which could be given to...hmm, someone on JSA perhaps?... and making people who are trying to find work do those jobs for free. What an absolutely ridiculous scenario. It'll be interesting to see the first court case where someone takes the employer and jobcenter to court for reimbursement of the minimum wage they should have been paid. £6.08/hour, 30 hour week, 8 weeks, less benefits paid. By my reckoning each employee (let's not bullshit - they're employees, they're just being dicked by their employers more than most of us) is being stung to the tune of about £1000. I presume the corporations are at least paying their JSA in these cases, yes?
  • Statistics
    So does this mean that the statistics of unemployed are actually higher?? as the jobseekers are 'in employment' even though it's for no payment.!!! Hmm... Kinda sounds like fudging some stats and numbers to make things look good....
  • The B.
    @Laurence, unfortunately 9-8pm isn't unusual, they'll dangle the bonus carrot in front of you but if you actually work out hours in overtime vs hours in bonus the bonus will usually work out to be 1/4 of what you would have been paid in overtime.
  • No.6
    While the idea of people working a set number of hours to pay towards their benefit, Is something I can agree with if it's for non profit organizations/ Struggling profit making companies. What I find so horrible about this scheme is that company like Sainsburys and Tesco are involved. Companies who make hundred of millions pound profit each year. They could easily afford to pay these free staff members but they are simply taking advantage of the current financial market. Companies like them shouldn't be allowed to take advantage of job seekers like that.
  • Whhhatttt!
    What it's really doing is taking jobs that the stores would usually have to pay students, job seekers and the like to do and getting them done for free. And the fact that people leave job seekers after being given a position in the "Work Programme" is mostly due to people just "signing off" to stop being taken for an unpaid mug! Just ask the people on it if they enjoy doing work with people getting £200 a week doing the exact same job while they're gettin £50 a week and have to use that money for travel to the job and to eat and pay rent. Its just a big CON/DEM waste of government money.

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