Around 40 local supporters of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty targetted Leith Kirkgate shops as part of national week of action against government work experience schemes.
Critics say the work experience schemes are unfair because people claiming some benefits who take part in the workplacements – which can be up to six months long – must work for free with no guarantee that there will be a job at the end of it.
If participants drop out of the placement before it has finished they can have their benefits cut for anything between three months and three years.
Both the Superdrug and British Heart Foundation shops were “blockaded and occupied” by the forty strong group of campaigners. Betwen them, the two organisations are said to provide hundreds of work placements across the country through government work experience schemes.
Neither Kirkgate security staff or the the Police intervened in the Leith protests.
The Kirkgate protest was part of a UK wide week of action that seeks to put pressure on the firms participating in government work experience programmes and coincides with claims that large firms such as Superdrug are being encouraged to take on hundreds of unemployed people in work experience schemes, rather than create paid temporary jobs over the Christmas period.
Joanna Long a member of Boycott Workfare explained:
“This Christmas, tens of thousands of people are being forced to work for no pay and more people than ever before have [had] their benefits stopped. Charities complicit in these schemes are helping force sick and disabled people to work without pay on threat of benefit sanctions. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and our week of action will show that they cannot get away with exploiting the people they are meant to help.”
“Employers who think they can reduce the wages bill this Christmas by replacing paid work with workfare placements should know that they will be exposed, and that there will be a public backlash against their unscrupulous practices.”
In this Daily Record story covering the protests a Superdrug Spokesperson said:
“Superdrug does not take part in any mandatory work schemes. We support initiatives to help get people back into the work place.
“Work experience schemes are an important part of our investing time and support to develop skills in local communities and, if a placement works well and vacancies arise, we look to take them on permanently. ”
Meanwhile, the British Heart Foundation is said to be “moving away” from participating in these schemes. Despite this, campaigners are still urging their supporters to write to the British Heart Foundation until they issue a public statement confirming that all placements have been halted.
The Boycott Workfare campaign group also insists that most placements for those over age 17 are in fact mandatory. They also allege that people who do not agree to participate in a voluntary scheme can then be referred into a mandatory scheme.
The Westminster government is currently refusing to publish a full, official list of all the organisations providing mandatory workfare placements. However, you can find a crowd sourced one here – together with a list of firms that have been persuaded not to support workfare schemes after public pressure was applied.
Recently, the City of Edinburgh council agreed a motion proposed by Leith Walk councillor Maggie Chapman, opposing the local authority’s participation in any mandatory work scheme.
Writing on her blog about the decision she said:
“Workfare undermines paid labour, something which we as a council should be encouraging. Edinburgh is doing some very good work improving employability opportunities and supporting skills training for our citizens. We should not, at the same time, be supporting any mandatory scheme that, according to the DWP’s own research, does not actually improve employment prospects.”