9 September 2012

Brighton Picket of British Heart Foundation for Using Forced Labour

British Heart Foundation Uses Unpaid Labour at Every Shop it Owns Boasts its CEO

Brighton picket of  British Heart Foundation Shop
For over 2 hours there was a very lively and active picket of the British Heart Foundation shop in Brighton's London Road.  Lots of people turned away and the public mood was overwhelmingly sympathetic.  Forced labour undermines the terms and conditions of workers in work and furthermore it leads to their replacement by forced and unpaid labour.  It is a disastrous 'solution' to British capitalism's crisis because it actually undermines the very market they are banking on recovering.
London May Day Demonstration
BHF like most charities  believes that because it is a charity it can get away with anything.  In my own experience representing workers at employment tribunals, charities are some of the worst employers and as the voluntary sector grows at the expense of the public sector this is a threat that the unions have barely recognised.

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The action against BHF will hopefully be followed by action against similar charities, prime amongst whom are Barnardos, who care for kids until they are 18 and then exploit their labour once they are adults.   Below is a description of the picket by one attendee, Pip and below that various items on workfare nationally.

Tony Greenstein

Picket went very well, with at least a dozen people taking part. Loads of leaflets given out to mostly positive responses, many stopped to talk over what was happening, some telling of their own negative experiences of workfare. One guy had been sent on courses & work experience despite being his qualifications, & then found there was still no job at the end of it. He summed it up perfectly: "What we need is a revolution." Oh yes!

Pip Tindall

One charity which has admitted to using workfare on a massive scale  is British Heart Foundation. This week, comedian Mark Thomas has spoken out against their involvement. Below, Izzy Koksal blogs about a visit to her local store to speak to the people forced to work without pay. Want to take action? Saturday is the day to do it as people across the UK take on charity involvement in workfare.

Forget second hand furniture – the British Heart Foundation is the place to go if you want to understand the reality of workfare. I popped along to my local store this afternoon in the hope of speaking with someone about their experience of workfare. The policy director of the BHF had announced that every store had people on work placements from the government’s various schemes and so this seemed like a good place to start. Speaking with the manager, she looked around the room and counted those on Mandatory Work Activity, ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 today’ she informed me, adding ‘we do have pure volunteers as well’. I certainly had come to the right place to witness workfare at work. Three men were at the back of the room hammering at a wardrobe, a young woman was answering the phone and arranging for donations to be collected by the van, another woman was sticking price tags on sofas – all of these people were here because, as one of them put it, ‘there is no choice’, if they refused they would lose their benefits.

Before I could even ask a question, the young woman at the desk hearing why I was there, said quietly and emphatically ‘it’s not nice here, it’s not nice here’. She went on to tell me that she had a qualification in retail and so ‘it’s not benefiting me at all’. She wanted to work with animals but had been told by her job centre advisor that they would not help her in pursing this interest, instead she’s found herself stuck here for a month. I mentioned to her that Boycott Workfare were protesting against BHF’s involvement in workfare this weekend and she became very excited ‘come here and protest when we’re here! That would be so fun!’

I went over to the three men who were fixing a broken wardrobe. ‘It’s a punishment’ one of the men told me as he hammered a nail into the wardrobe ‘it’s nothing to do with work experience, if you miss a day your benefits are stopped, it’s about stopping people from claiming benefits… Yes, I really appreciate this work experience, the 13 years of work I’ve done managing clubs in London really wasn’t enough’ he says good naturedly. ‘It’s a punishment because you are in the same boat as a probation person’, he turns to the man who is hammering the wardrobe with him who is there on probation ‘no offence’ he says. ‘I’m unemployed and he’s a criminal’.

I speak with a black woman who tells me workfare makes her feel ‘mad…it’s absolutely slave labour – absolutely – it’s the 21st century. They took me out of slavery and put me back in slavery.’

Charities are the new face of workfare with politicians stressing the words ‘community benefit’ in order to make workfare seem more acceptable and friendly as they attempt to expand it on an incredible scale.  But as is clear from the people I spoke with whoever workfare is for, it is a punitive, degrading, and exploitative practice.

This Saturday join Boycott Workfare’s UK-wide day of action against charity involvement in workfare.

The Story of One Unpaid Worker

The British Heart Foundation, contacted by a Boycott Workfare campaigner back in November, were insistent that they “would not actively encourage any placements, regardless of the scheme name, where the person involved is not a willing participant…” But P Barclays, a commenter on the Guardian’s cif pages, is willing alright, willing their time at the British Heart Foundation under a MWA placement to come to an end, speaking of the charity they say:

Let's get things straight, I am being FORCED to work for one of these SO CALLED CHARITIES, I don't know if I'm allowed to name them here but they are running a prominent ad campaign with Vinnie Jones and initials BHF…

    This “charity” is treating me and fellow workers who have been placed there like garbage and we are working our arses off for 6 hours+ a day for dole money, there is no way that this “charity” would be able to function without this free slave labour and they would have to “hire” some real workers with real wages if it wasn’t for this scheme.

I am going to advise all my friends and family NEVER to donate to this charity or any other charity that is exploiting people using the “work programme” these “charities” are no better morally than private sector companies and probably treat the work programme people worse than they would be in the private sector.

Constant threats of sanction if everything is not done on time or in the way they want, I hate seeing the way they demoralise people and make them feel like human garbage. Its disgusting its despicable and “charity” is not a name that belongs to most of these charities, they are a disgrace.

According to the British Heart Foundation, PBarclays would have had a choice in the matter of their being there, as s/he would have had “an informal chat with them to ascertain their interest in our organisation and the work experience we can offer.” And that, resulting of this conversation: “If either side feels it is not beneficial, then we do not accept people for placement. The agencies who manage the placements then source an alternative. In these situations, the candidate will not have their benefits affected.”

It is unfortunate that the British Heart Foundation fail to understand that the very reflex of workfare is the imposition at which the jobseeker faces threat of sanction to their benefit, and that choice therefore is no option. And if not a failure to understand, plain uncaring in the situation of PBarclays’s workfare cohorts:

“… I am on MWA and at least 4+ others are there on “the work programme” (not voluntary). I’ve seen them threatened with sanctions by the ingeus people infront of the store manager, the store manager says any sanctions are not my problem, you are here to “do the job” he says “I have a business to run” basically fall in line or I’ll make the phone call and your claim will be sanctioned for 6 months end of story. It makes sense that someone like Vinnie Jones is running the campaign because thats basically how the place is run and representative of the people behind the company.”

The British Heart Foundation have since been contacted again and made aware of PBarclays case, but make no direct comment, other than to insist once more that a discussion occurs prior to placement. Worryingly, the organisation cannot consult its political heart because it claims not to have one, though in accepting this government policy one might suggest it is blue and yellow. British Heart Foundation has not yet ditched its workfare involvement.

1 comment:

  1. I used to run this shop, incredibly. Looks like things have changed a fair bit. However, in the defence of charity shops, they always need more staff and if people on this 'workfare' programme are going to be sent somewhere regardless, is the charity to blame for taking help where it can get it? And in response to the comment about they wouldn't be able to run their shops without the scheme... Well, they ran perfectly well without it for quite a number of years.


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