Does the Commission subsidise a forced labour scheme in Britain?

The European Commission and Member States are meeting to discuss implementation of the Youth Guarantee at a seminar organised by the Commission in La Hulpe, Belgium on 17-18 October. All those people participating in this seminar found something to do to get paid for, but have failed to help even one young unemployed person to find a job. (EC Audiovisual Services)

The European Commission and Member States are meeting to discuss implementation of the Youth Guarantee at a seminar organised by the Commission in La Hulpe, Belgium on 17-18 October. All those people participating in this seminar found something to do to get paid for, but have failed to help even one young unemployed person to find a job. (EC Audiovisual Services)

The British Supreme Court in London upheld yesterday a Court of Appeal decision that the government’s heavily advertised ‘model’ programme, “back to work”, designed to ‘help’ the unemployed to find a job, or training or apprenticeship, is illegal and therefore has to be stopped or substantially changed. The scheme requires that the young unemployed should work without pay and cuts their jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) if they don’t comply with the rules. The programme had been heavily promoted by the British government as a model that should be used also by other countries. It has attracted heavy criticism, though, from many quarters, for imposing unpaid labour.

Understandably, before the Supreme Court, there was an Appeal Court to decide on the case. The European Sting closely followed this affair. As a matter of fact, at the end of last February, a British Appeal Court ruled that the “back to work” scheme was illegal for enforcing unpaid work. On 2 March the Sting writer Suzan A. Kane noted, “In reality, this British government programme was not designed to help the unemployed, but rather to cut their unemployment benefits. Under its rules, young people receiving unemployment benefits had to accept any job without payment (!), if they wanted to keep their allowances. Of course, the whole scheme implicated some ‘flexible’ private firms, which wanted to have in their workforce unpaid slaves, not regular workers. The whole ‘circus’ was called ‘on the job training’”.

Unpaid labour

Of course, the employers who used workers for free, didn’t pay any social security contributions, either. Workers were sweating for them for nothing, really. Given that, the selection process of the business to be supplied with free labour, must have been quite a parody. Who would say no to such a gift? This said, could the bureaucrats who make the decisions ask for kickbacks, while directing the unpaid labourers to a certain firm? Who knows?

In any case, the British government wasn’t happy at all with this Court of Appeal ruling and took the case to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately for David Cameron’s government, all the five Supreme Court judges agreed with the Court of Appeal decision. Their ruling says that the programme has legal flaws and it was not explained in detail to perspective participants.

According to the British Press it was a graduate, Cait Reilly, who brought the case to the courts. She claimed that the requirement to work without payment violated her human rights. As expected, the Supreme Court didn’t accept that the scheme led to exploitation and ‘forced labour’. In such an eventuality, the London government’s days could have been numbered.

Does the EU subsidise forced labour?

It’s a bad coincidence though for the Brussels bureaucracy that this scandal breaks out at a time when there is a lot of talk going on, about the Commission’s ‘Youth Guarantee’ scheme. It’s not the first time that the Brussels dignitaries advertise a pointless and ineffective employment scheme. It may also prove bad luck for the Commission, if this British government ‘forced labour’ programme turns out to have received EU funds.

Only last week, the European Economic and Social Committee revealed that four months after last June, when the Commission’s ‘Youth Guarantee’ initiative pompously got the green light from the 28 EU leaders Summit of 28 June, and not one jobless young person has been offered a job or a training or an apprenticeship. To be reminded, that this ‘Youth Guarantee’ scheme promises that within four months from graduation, all young unemployed under 25 (it’s 7.5 million of them) would be offered one or more of the above three options.

Digging a bit deeper in these EU employment schemes, it comes out that it’s never about real jobs or training. If a business needs a worker, it comes out and finds one. In the case of those EU funded programmes, the real thing is that usually the businesses which participate do not really need workers, but rather eye the subsidies which go with them. The key in this game is ‘traineeship’. In most cases it’s badly paid petty jobs in retailing shops. University graduates are offered almost invariably cleaning jobs, without the right to deny them. In short, it’s always training with the broom. Then came the British government with its brave new ideas and took the scheme a bit further giving life to the dreams of any employer; unpaid workers!

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