Sunday, 26 February 2012

Slavery - contrast and compare

What with all the 'workfare' drama in the last few weeks, the word "slavery" has become a popular buzz word.

I have already written in my last post about the differences in the schemes that seem to be attacked by anti-workfare protesters, so I will defend the most controversial aspects of each scheme in order to not 'cherry pick' from each scheme as the critics do.

What we need to establish for the word is a commonly held definition. Unfortunately for humanity but luckily for this blog, there are numerous examples to draw upon.

Let's look firstly here at an organisation that defends those against slavery, the aptly named Anti-Slavery organisation.

Here is their helpful list

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:
  • forced to work -- through mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
It would take an inventive thinker with an ability far beyond my richest dreams that could equate that to being asked to work for 6-8 weeks, for 30 hours a week in a safe, secure and hopefully productive employment in return for a continued supply of benefits.

They are not forced to work any more than any other person is forced to work in order to pay bills.

They are not owned. By anyone (a threat of not being paid is not a threat by an owner).

They are not sold, or treated as a commodity in any way

They can do whatever they want for 138 hours a week and even in the other 30, they can still do whatever they want, they will just not be paid (again, equal to the freedom anyone being employed has).

The central argument tends to be "...but if they don't work they will lose their home and not be able to feed themselves.."

*SNAP* that is true of almost every single person on the planet. That isn't slavery.

The same website then goes on to publish a list of things slaves are made to do-

Bonded labour x
Early and forced marriage x
Forced labour x
Slavery by descent x
Trafficking x
Worst forms of child labour x

OK, how about other types of slavery though-out history (as I would say that is what we all think about when someone says slavery). 
The Transatlantic slave trade involved the kidnapping (either directly or by native middlemen) of Africans who became a commodity. They were shipped in incredibly poor conditions to the Americas where, if they were lucky enough to survive (15% died on the voyage) they were sold on. 
They were completely owned, could be punished at will for anything the owner decided to punish them for. 
They could be raped, their children would automatically become slaves and even their lives could be taken.

A lot of the basis of this comes from Roman Law on slavery and as that is probably the second most thought of type of slavery that will be the other type we'll look at. 

These slaves again were out right-owned and had very little rights. They could be beaten, whipped, and even killed without much intervention by the state. They could be raped at will by their owner or anyone that their owner decided to give the right to.
 They would be forced to work in any line of work their owner decided, with no right to food or shelter and were only granted this as to continue their 'use'. Their children were born into slavery. If a slave turned on their owner it was common practice for the entire household of slaves to be put to death 
The slaves were often branded or forced to wear collars, their testimony was only admissible in court if delivered under torture, even if offered up. 

Now let's compare this with our 'workfare slavery'.
If you do not go to work for 30 hours a week, the state will not hurt you, it will not stop your free movement, it will not do ANYTHING except stop giving you a small amount of money. 

Compare that to a slave in the traditional sense. They are told "we will allow you to go about your business freely, you get to live your life exactly how you want, with protection from violence and imprisonment, but we will only give you money if you agree to work 30 hours a week for 6-8 weeks. If you don't like it, you can jog on and we will not hunt, hurt or look for you"  - Can you imagine how ecstatic they would be?
This comparison has got to stop as it is meaningless and is just hyperbole. I beseech anyone, on either side of the debate, to avoid this term.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Working for something is not slavery

As anyone not living in a box with a cat and some radioactive material will probably have seen, the Government's work programme has come under fire in the last few weeks.

The criticism itself varies from the thought out view that people working for just their JSA & expenses without contribution by the private institutions  amounts to a government subsidy for businesses....and then you have the rabid "this is exactly like slavery" folk.
(I've also read blogs that try to argue that there are different types of slavery, some of which are more similar to the programme than the common understanding of slavery.. so its ok to call it that...though on closer inspection the author had either cherry picked or was simply misinformed about ancient slavery).

The whole thing has a very slight whiff of the central No2AV campaign about it. The lumping together of many different work schemes, voluntary as well as mandatory, adding together all the participants and then using all the potentially controversial parts of different schemes to make it seem that a huge number have to suffer terribly is so dishonest, but they have used real data.. *Eric M - "just not necessarily in the right order" ..

So let's look at the facts..these are pretty thin on the group in a huge error by the Government which has allowed room for the social media driven nonsense which fills our ears, inboxes and twitter feeds to flourish.

The source of the most comprehensive list of the schemes comes from an unlikely source. The Guardian (full article on the link)...Did it just get cold in here? I have used their data to compress it into easy read bullet points

Here we go...

Work Experience

  • The Work Experience programme is  voluntary
  •  For 16 - 24 year olds
  • Out of employment from 3-9 months
  • Placements are 2-8 weeks
  • Placements are from 25-30 hrs
  • JSA & Expenses including childcare costs
  • If the placement is abandoned without good reason after one week the participant runs the risk of losing two weeks benefits
  • 34,200 people had started a Work Experience placement by Nov 11

Sector-based work academies

  • Training and a work placement
  • Open to people unemployed for over three months. 
  • Anyone completing a placement is given a guaranteed job interview 
  • Placements last up to six weeks (part classroom training/part on-the-job)
  • Participation is voluntary but those that quit face sanctions
  • 3,400 people had participated as of Nov 11

Mandatory Work Activity

  • Compulsory Scheme for people "who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work."
  • No set time frame though placements typically reserved for those unemployed over three months
  • Scheme lasts six to eight weeks
  • Up to 30 hours a week 
  • The jobs must "make[] a contribution to the community"
  • Refusal leads to a loss of 13 weeks benefit, the second refusal increases this to 26 weeks
  • 24,010 people participated up to Nov 11

The Work Programme

  • The scheme is for "tailored support" which may or may not include useful work placements
  • This task is contracted out to organisations that do not have authority over Benefits
  • Starts nine months for young people and a year for everyone else
  • 370,000 people were referred to the Work Programme as of Nov 11 (as stated not all these involve work placements

Community Activity Programme

  • Pilot scheme for hose unemployed for more than two years
  • Work placements are up to 30 hrs per week
  • Work placements can last up to six months
  • Help to get into employment is also included in the scheme
  • The scheme is designed  "to develop disciplines and skills associated with sustained employment, (for example: attending on time on a regular basis as part of a working routine, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision".
  • The placements must be tasks that deliver contribution to the local community and " must not displace what would otherwise be paid jobs."
  • As will MWA, this is compulsory and will result in sanctions if quit

As we can see, the schemes are very different and the use by some of the more ruthless critics of data from one to attack the other is not only unfounded but irresponsible and harmful to the many volunteers that have been denied experience in various institutions that have felt the need to pull out of the voluntary schemes.

This brings me to my next point, many of the companies that took part in these schemes weren't doing it for financial gain, they were doing it as part of community responsibility policy. Speak to any employer, especially in the retail sector and they will tell you that taking on unskilled, inexperienced new staff is probably the most counter productive and harmful thing to their business.

Not only are there endless risk assessments, induction trainings, customer service trainings, health and safety trainings, product trainings, policy trainings and supervision to organise, you have to do it all again in the few short weeks (and hours) that the staff are there.

As the goal in many of the placements isn't the job at the end of the placement, it's the real world experience, the discipline, the CV entry, the ability to give references...topped off with a chance of a job offer, the pressure put on these businesses to only take on these people if paid and there is a job for everyone will only make the business heavily reduce the number of placements.

In fact, why would they even bother to participate in the scheme? Why risk it with long time inexperienced unemployed people when you could simply just poach them from a competitor that are fully trained, are already doing the job and are a lot less work to get to unsupervised level?

The answer is simple ..they will not participate in the scheme, the companies thought that despite of it not actually helping them in real terms, that they might get a bit of PR boost for providing the opportunities ...however with that out the window, they are pulling out and fast. Tesco have said they will start paying people and will give people jobs at the end of the placements unless there is a reason not to.

It is very important to actually read that statement with a business head on. Tesco's will not be taking on more people than they need, so whereas they used to grant placements to a large amount of VOLUNTEERS, that number will be shrinking.

Well done everyone, you have succeeded in taking away placements that actually have waiting lists because so many people WANTED to get on them out of uninformed misdirected anger.

I take it you'll be off to shut down the soup kitchens now for not paying their 'slaves' serving the food?