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(en) Freedom 6316 10th August - Activists from Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers Centre

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 21 Aug 2002 04:06:45 -0400 (EDT)


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Activists from Brighton and Hove Unemployed
Workers Centre have taken up the case of an
unemployed man from Brighton who, they claim, was
refused funding for a language course because he wrote to
his MP. They say funding had previously been agreed
between Mark Weeden, from Kemp Town, and a company,
Working Links. This was as part of a costed action
plan aimed at securing him long-term employment.
They say funding for Mark's course was suspended when
the company became aware that he'd written to an MP
for information.
Working Links is a public-private consortium which
includes the employment agency Manpower, the
consultants Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and the state-run
Employment Service. It administers the local
Employ-ment Zone. This is part of a state scheme
which aims to reduce the number of long-term
unemployed in Brighton and fourteen other areas.
Under this scheme, Working Links staff have the status of
Employment Officers. They can direct claimants
to take steps to improve their job prospects. Failure to
comply with these directions can lead to a loss of
benefits.
The government says Employment Zones have been set up
to involve the private sector in providing flexible and
innovative solutions to the problem of the persistence of
long-term unemployment in certain areas of the country.
After eighteen months unemployment, benefits
claimants are now automatically referred to the scheme,
which is compulsory. It gives them help in improving their
employment prospects, as well as a Subsistence
payment equivalent to the Jobseeker's Allowance
(JSA). Participants in the scheme have to agree to apply
for a certain number of jobs a week in return.
Working Links can receive as much as £5,000 in
premiums for finding a claimant more than three
months work. In its first year trading, the company made
a profit of £500,000.
Activists at the Unemployed Workers Centre claim the
underlying intention behind Employment Zones is to
make the unem-ployed compete more effectively in the job
market by taking low-paid jobs.
For each claimant who's referred to the scheme,
Working Links receives the following payments:
¥ For each claimant referred to step one, £300
¥ For each claimant progressing to step two, £1,369
(equivalent to six months JSA)
¥ For each claimant who finds a job, £435 (or £547 if
they've been unemployed for more than three years). In
addition, the company retains what's left of the six
months JSA.
¥ For each claimant who retains a job for three months,
Working Links gets a bonus of £2,468 (£3,098 if they've
been unemployed for more than three years).
The legal requirements of the 1995 Jobseekers Act are
suspended within Employment Zones. At the same time
the 2002 Employ-ment Zone Regulations, on which the
contract between the government and Working Links is
based, effectively regulate their respective legal
obligations, including the manner in which they treat
claimants.
But this contract can't be seen because it's protected by
commercial confidentiality. Other internal
standards are also confiden-tial, and can't be seen
because they're contained in private documents.
When Mark Weeden tried to find out from Working Links
about the guidelines that determine what claimants are
expected to do, he was dissatisfied with the answers the
company provided. In desperation he turned to his local
MP, Des Turner, for clarification.
When Working Links found out, payment for his language
course was suspended until the matter could be
resolved. Tony Greenstein of the Unemployed Centre
says the affair is an obvious case of victimisation.
All Mr Weeden did was to raise an issue of public
interest with his MPÓ, he says. For this he seems to
have been penalised. It seems as if Working Links are
petrified of anyone criticising them in the slightest. You
can't just beat people on the head for exercising their
democratic rights, especially not if you have taken over a
public capacity previously exercised by a democratically
accountable public body.
Derek Pattison



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