Friday, 17 February 2012

Tesco, Workfare, and poor social (media) skills.

If you have been following the news...not the main news of course, no-one cares enough about the unemployed and those on benefits to give top billing to such controversy....you'll know the government has a scheme that says people are now being perfectly legally offered jobs to work for free. "Workfare" as it's being dubbed. If this doesn't sit well with you, perhaps you worry that your job might be at risk because "employing" someone for free may be better for business than employing you, help show support against the practice by signing this e-petition.

Well, actually it's not exactly working for free, they keep their job seekers allowance (even though they're technically in a job) and might get additional expenses from the company. This equates to companies, many of which can be found on This List, paying NOTHING for labour, and individuals only being paid ~£1.50-2.50 an hour for their efforts....efforts that would normally get them at least £5 an hour. If they don't adhere to the compulsion on them to work? They'll lose their benefits.

But then it's only filthy benefit scroungers getting hit, forced to either find work in jobs that don't exist or turn to other ways of financing themselves, right? Oh, wait... how about the disabled too?

The thing is that Workfare doesn't even seem to work. Read this report that the Department for Work and Pensions put together, and you'll see that workfare certainly isn't an answer to anything on it's own, that is potentially reduces the chances of people that are forced to work from getting real employment, and that (funnily enough) it's least effective in a high unemployment market. Why? Because there are no jobs for people to take after they've done their "placement"!

Somehow this report that says "it's not really effective" has led to this government ploughing ahead with it, no doubt with wind in their sails courtesy of it being a policy idea from the particularly vile parts of the previous Labour administration.

Tesco are currently absorbing most of the ire about this, previous targets like TK Maxx and Sainsburys have done the right thing and agreed to stop this practice, Tesco on the other hand have repeatedly tried to spin their stance, and obfuscate what is going on...clearly hoping it'll all just go away. You can tell, however, when a company is acting shifty when they spin their scheme in to "We give guaranteed interviews to everyone on the scheme". Of course there are few hard figures I can find, it doesn't help that Tesco, on their facebook page, keep deleting comments from anyone that tries to highlight any facts on the issue, but an unverified number popping up is that a whole 5% of people get permanent jobs after being in the scheme.

What has been quoted by someone, on Twitter, is:

@cutchswife
Tesco have taken on 1400 unpaid claimants in the last 4 months that equates to 168,000 hours unpaid work (30 hours a wk) Tesco profits 3.5bn


This is AT LEAST £840k saved by Tesco in the 4 months of the program instead of paying fair wages. They make a profit of £3.5bn and we're supposed to accept that the only way for people to get work in this country is by the tax payer funding people to work for these organisations for free? There is clearly work that Tesco can employ people for, why isn't there a huge outcry that they could be employing up to 1400 on a real, full time, job?

Hardly cause to celebrate the company and the scheme with their "guaranteed interviews" now, is it?

Hiding behind a "community policy" that seems to revolve around them dictating what the "community" is interested in (currently sky diving for charity and £5000 worth of chocolate being given away for free), their online moderators seem to be in a minute by minute battle with online activists trying to promote to fans of Tesco just what their favourite supermarket is involved in. Hundred upon hundreds of comments are posted about their Workfare involvement, and yet they refuse to publish any area of discussion on the front of their facebook presence, where everyone can see it, despite the clear desire by the "community" to discuss it.

Like Paperchase and others before them, Tesco are falling in to the well trodden social media trap of believing that they can honestly contain the outcry for them to do something about their practices. These companies fail, time and time again, to realise that the more you contain something the more loud it becomes. We don't have mass censorship here, there are plenty of avenues for this discussion to take place. Twitter is favourite right now, but it can't be long before it moves in front of Tesco stores. If they think that hiding the facts from people on the front of their Facebook page is important, how are they going to deal with people, feeling they're being silenced, being much more effective in making Tesco customers know what they are supporting with each purchase.

But the reality is that if Tesco and others are taking part in this scheme, it is because the Government is allowing it. No, they're not just allowing it, they're pushing it. Changing the policy originally from being purely for the benefit of communities...an attempt to keep it in the realm of volunteering and vital local work...they now have expanded the language to include pretty much any business. We can shout at Tesco all we want, it is a fun thing to do for activists, they're low hanging fruit...but if we want to change this we need to tell our Government, our MPs, that this is not how we want our country to treat our poor, disadvantaged and disabled. Sign the petition

I shall leave you with an example of this terrible strategy below, one of many conversations that "David" (are there more than one David's, or are Tesco also making their community hosts work outside of EU working time directive agreements also?) has had with people instead of just doing the right thing and being open and compliant to customer desires in the social web...

Tesco:
Morning. A quick remiinnder that we keep our posts on-topic on this page so we can cater for users who want to diiscuss a range of subjects. If you have a subject you want to comment on other than our chocolate giveaway you may be able to find a relevant post to comment on by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. Best wishes, David - Community Host

Me:
David...how about you guys make an official post about your stance on Workfare, here on the front page, where you're not trying to hide the issue, and we can all be on topic there in an open and fair way, and stop wasting your time?

Tesco (paraphrasing, as they've already deleted their own post, along with however many others):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above.

Me:
I know it can be found by clicking away from the visible front page...I'm wondering why you are afraid of discussing it openly by letting those who just drift by your facebook page to see what you are involved in, right here where they can see it without having to go searching?

Tesco (paraphrasing, as they've already deleted their own post, again):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above.

Me (quoting from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy): ‎
"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."
"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."
"But the plans were on display ..."
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

Tesco (now deleted):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. We keep posts on a particular topic so that a wide variety of users have a wide variety of subjects they can talk about. Best wishes, David - Community Host

Me:
Which is why I'm saying make a new "particular topic" so that people can keep "on topic" with that "particular" topic, and we can have a truly "wide variety" of subjects to talk about here. It seems to me many more people want to talk about your workfare policy than a free chocolate scheme.

Tesco:
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. We keep posts on a particular topic so that a wide variety of users and Arthur Dent (above) have a wide variety of subjects they can talk about (perhaps with Arthur's towel, a dressing gown and a nice hot cup of tea). Best wishes, David - Community Host

Edit: I have now been blocked by Facebook, despite remaining fair and non-abusive, and asking multiple times in the area they requested I post in, about their scheme...they never replied, and now have decided silencing me is better than engaging with me.