Tesco is to offer work experience candidates paid placements and a guaranteed job at the end, after claims that it was using benefit claimants as unpaid labour generated an angry consumer backlash.
The UK’s biggest supermarket chain said that participants in the government’s ‘Workfare’ scheme would now be offered the choice of remaining on Jobseeker Allowance
benefits and completing their placement on an unpaid basis or of accepting a four-week placement, with a guaranteed job offer at the end if they completed the trial successfully.
Tesco confirmed that, unlike organisations such as beauty and health retailer Superdrug
, electronics chain, Maplins
, and mental health charity, Mind
, which have withdrawn, it was still signed up to the government’s initiative, however.
But the company said it would continue to seek reassurance from the government that the scheme was voluntary and that no jobseekers would be penalised from withdrawing from it. Currently, if participants leave without “good reason” after the first week, they run the risk of losing two weeks-worth of benefits.
It told the Telegraph
: “Tesco has suggested to the Department of Work and Pensions
that, to avoid any misunderstanding about the voluntary nature of the scheme, the risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed.”
The supermarket chain added that it has only ever taken part in the government’s voluntary programme rather than its more controversial ‘mandatory work activity’ scheme.
But employment minister Chris Grayling told the Guardian
that, while he would look at Tesco’s proposals, he was not keen on making a rushed decision. He also insisted that no one was forced to participate in the Workfare scheme and that the use of penalties was limited.
Richard Brasher, Tesco UK’s chief executive, said: “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. 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.”
He added that the chain remained committed to providing 3,000 work placements under the government’s scheme and that half of that number had been delivered to date. Some 300 participants, the equivalent of 25%, had so far been taken on permanently, Brasher said.
The move came after a Tesco supermarket in central London was forced to close on Saturday following invasion by members of the ‘Right to Work
’ campaign, which was protesting about a job advert
carried on the Jobcentre Plus
The advert said that Tesco was looking for a permanent night shift worker for a store in East Anglia but would pay only expenses and Jobseekers’ Allowance, something that the firm later blamed on an “IT error” after it unleashed outrage in the twittersphere.
The Right to Work group said that it planned to hold further protests on Wednesday at a number of Tesco stores, including two in London and one in Kingston-upon-Thames.
A petition to abolish all welfare work experience schemes in the UK, set up and run by campaign group, Unfair Workfare
, has also attracted more than 7,000 signatures do date.