Thursday, 11 August 2011

Trade unionists welcome Green council's decision to avoid workfare slavery contract

[The unedited Argus letter, by our president Holly Smith, GMB]

We welcome the announcement by the Green Party administration of their decision to not enter into a contract with the welfare-to-work provider Avanta (Argus, Wednesday 3rd August).

Avanta, along with A4E, TNG, G4S, Maximus, Serco, and Working Links among others, are private companies who are creaming profits from our public services. They enter into contracts with Jobcentres and then receive payments based on how many benefit claimants they can put into work placements. Whilst on the surface this may sound like a good idea, the reality is that these placements are often low-quality jobs, and often are actually unpaid positions, and if claimants refuse these placements they face sanctions, which means their benefits are stopped.

Apart from the ethics of forcing people into what is essentially slave labour, most working people don’t realise that schemes such as this actually serve as a mechanism for keeping wages low, and puts their own jobs at risk, for why would a private company keep employing a unionised workforce who have fought for a decent salary and terms and conditions, when they could simply sack them all and rely on an army of free labour willingly provided by these companies?

The actual effectiveness of these companies should also be questioned. Research conducted by Cardiff University found that: “Whenever Jobcentre Plus has been allowed the same flexibilities and funding as private sector companies it has been able to match, if not surpass, the performance of contractors”, which was echoed even by the National Audit Office. Because these private companies are paid by results, the profit motive dictates that they will pick the claimants easiest to place into work, and leave behind those deemed more difficult, thus victimising those who need the most help. Therefore, finding people employment should be left to the workers in the DWP, who are highly-skilled, with expertise in supporting people back to work and in helping people to receive the payments they deserve.

At a time when there are currently over 2.5 million unemployed and less than 500,000 vacancies, we of course welcome a scheme that aims to get people back to work, but it is essential that this is quality, sustainable employment. For example, compliance officers in HMRC bring in over £658,000 in revenue per employee, so creating thousands of these positions could go some way in collecting the billions lost in tax avoidance by large companies and wealthy individuals (leaked Treasury documents in 2006 estimated the tax gap at between £97 and £150 billion). Or with over 4 million people currently on council housing waiting lists, a mass social housing building programme could provide decent sustainable housing for those in need, would stop housing benefit being used to subsidise the lifestyles of wealthy landlords, and would reduce unemployment by providing thousands of skilled jobs.

We need to ensure that the greed, corruption and prioritisation of profit above human need that sits hand in hand with free market capitalism does not taint our welfare state. Public money should be ploughed back into investing in and improving our public services, and job creation, rather than being used to line the pockets of the shareholders of these private sector parasites.

Holly Smith
Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition
GMB Trade Union representative for Brighton and Hove City Council
President, Brighton Trades Council

[And Tony Greenstein's unedited letter]

The Green Administration of Brighton Council is to be congratulated for scrapping a workfare scheme with a private company Avanta. Not only could this have cost the council tax payer up to £0.5 million but there was no discernible benefit for those who would have been forced on to these schemes.

If the past 15 years have proved one thing it is that all these make-work schemes, New Deal, Work Programme, Project Work etc., have made no difference to the level of unemployment, which is dependent on the economic cycles of capitalism not individual culpability. Despite Gordon Brown telling us that he had ended boom and bust, that is indeed what we have.

Over a week ago I wrote to the Green councillors pointing out a number of problems with this contract, not least the fact that Avanta didn’t seem to be doing anything in Brighton other than taking on sub-contractors like the Council to do their work for them, whilst ensuring that whatever else happened they would make money. Subsequently a whistleblower came forward with further allegations.

I am pleased Labour’s Warren Morgan has welcomed the decision of the Council not to sign a contract with Avanta. However this contrasts with their silence over the past two weeks and their previous support for just such schemes.

We are in the midst of the worst recession in living memory. Whole economies are threatened with collapse and bankruptcy, the Euro is under dire threat and with it possibly the European union itself. The idea that schemes whose only purpose is coercion, where people gain no skills other than obedience, form part of a solution to unemployment is crazy.

We are seeing all the benefits of free market capitalism coming home to roost. There is work available, there are people willing to do it, we need massive investment in for example alternative energy technologies, yet speculators have brought us to the precipice because they preferred to ‘invest’ in the toxic American housing market and similar financial instruments.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Greenstein
Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers Centre