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On the day Tesco reacted to allegations that it was taking part in a government "slave labour" scheme, ministers have come out fighting.

They believe that a small, unrepresentative protest group is trying to make big companies lose their nerve and withdraw from a scheme which allows people up to eight weeks' work experience without losing their benefits (in the past only two weeks was allowed).

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told me: "I think it is ridiculous when people condemn a programme of work experience which is helping hundreds, if not thousands, of young people to get into work. I think anyone who wants to condemn a scheme that helps people into work at a time of high unemployment really needs to think hard about their priorities. It is not slave labour. It is not compulsory. It is entirely voluntary."

He added: "It is very simple. We say to employers, 'Please take on these young people. We will pay them, through benefits, but could you please keep them on for a few weeks because it increases their chance of finding work?' Fifty per-cent of youngsters on the work experience scheme so far have found permanent work. That is something that I celebrate. Other people might choose to condemn it. I don't."

Asked if he had any concerns about young people being asked to work for example a night-shift stacking shelves in a supermarket for free, Mr Clegg said: "I have absolutely no qualms at all about the idea that rather than have a young person sitting at home, feeling cut off, lonely and getting depressed because they don't know what to do with their lives.

"It is better to give them the opportunity for a few weeks to actually work, and of course retain their payment through their benefits".

The anti-cuts pressure group Right to Work occupied a Tesco branch in Westminster at the weekend and bombarded its HQ and that of other big high street names with demands that work be paid the minimum rate.

Today Tesco said it would offer young unemployed people four weeks' paid work or the opportunity to take part in the existing scheme. A no-brainer you might think.

But ministers believe that many will prefer the certainty of staying on benefits to the uncertainty of coming off it without knowing they're going to get a job at the end.

What may unnerve ministers most is that Tesco has come out against the government's welfare rule which states that benefits can be cut for people whose work experience placements do not proceed well.

Right to Work spokesman Mark Dunk welcomed the move by Tesco but warned that the group might now target other high street names.

One minister told me that he believed that the protesters were the "usual suspects" who'd got hold of and used other people's e-mails to write protests.

One of those who appeared to have written to Tesco was a government minister.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I hope those working on this scheme receive their Terms and Conditions as required by section 1 of the Emploment Rights Act (1996) and don't have to take Tesco to an Employment Tribunal like I had to (case no 1401317/08). I also hope that the under-18s are properly supervised when selling alcohol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I don't view it as enforced labour but agree it should not be used as a substitute for taking on full time workers.

    I've had great fun in my time stacking shelves, pulling pints & even serving bacon [not good for a vegetarian], engaging with the punters can be rewarding - it's all about how you approach it.


    At least you didn't have to do the washing up at the end of your shift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.


    You could cut the salaries of me and every other director at my level in half and it would add a couple of pence to the hourly rate of store staff. And other companies would snap us up very quickly. I don't earn as much as you might expect.

    Might interest you to know that we all spend 3-4 days a year stacking shelves, in the lead up to Christmas/ Easter or both. Its not beneath us...

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    22nd February 2012 - 16:33
    sighs @ 160
    "Hey, don't be too 'realistic' with your kids, though, will you? Without Dreams We Are Mere Machines."

    You've jumped to the wrong conclusion again, I'm all for dreams, I'm a renown dreamer myself, says so in all my personal profiles. But I accept, and teach my kids, that it's up to us individually to make those dreams become reality

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Are these youths still classed as unemployed whilst taking part in this scheme? If not, it seems this is a lame attempt by the government to fudge the figures to make it look like they've lowered youth unemployment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Surely it is better for unemployed youngsters to do a scheme like this rather than sit at home and do nothing. If they are good then they may well get a job at the end of the placement or at least a reference and something on their cv. It would be a shame if large companies were put off this scheme simply because of some idiotic protestors who do not even seem to know how the scheme works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Labour created this problem with their lowest common denominator ideology in education and their ludicrous immigration policies. And because left wingers are as likely run a business as they are to vote conservative they don’t realise why employers view the young as unsuitable;- no evidence of work ethic & no basic skills. This policy would at least give some kids a chance to get on the ladder

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    My local m&s recently advertised a minimum wage job. 300 applicants apparently. Kind of suggests that lots of people out there ready to work for not much. Primark opened recently in edinburgh 20 to 1 applicant to job ratio. Most unemployed want a job, even at 6 quid an hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    #166. zipperty
    'It depends how far you go back.'

    Just bringing it up to date. Haven't seen queues outside the local yet.

    #168 coats

    Yep, I worked in an off-licence, less glamorous than pub or bar work.
    Helped me gather useful market research for future work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    These protests may well be the work of the "usual suspects", but on the narrow point they raised, they are right. What sort of sense does it make to tell JSA claimants these placements are voluntary, allow them to quit between the first and seventh days, but then punish them if they leave after eight days, for example to do voluntary work more relevant to their career plans?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    171 F_S
    Nice one! (high five?)
    161 menin
    You're a nice guy so I'll let that one go. Putting you on negative watch though! ;o)
    Ode to the noble shelf stacker. Do give it a rest! No on second thoughts you've convinced me. Let's give it a fitting title - merchandise arraying operative - pay them a lot more to reflect their importance and pay for it by reducing your pay. Ready to sign up

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.


    Meh.... maybe.


    sure, you do... :o|

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.


    How right you are. We seem to focus on the fact that a job is 'menial' rather than that a job has value and a purpose.

    I may wish and hope many great things on my children, but should they find themselves in this position then I would encourage them to participate in a scheme like this. Better be working and see what you think, and what happens. Its not going to happen not trying is it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    No156 Idont,
    'Something for nothing'? the 'banksters' know something about that, currently to the tune of £800 billion.
    There has been a massive redistribution of wealth from taxpayers into the pockets of the incompetent louts in sections of the financial services industry, the ones who caused the mayhem

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    The potential for exploitation was concerning but getting people into the work habit albeit briefly is a good thing. Many of us did menial jobs to fund ourselves along the way, if you approach it with the correct attitude rather than just view it as drudgery you can get something out of it.

    Far better that those companies involved in the scheme make a nominal payment to the participants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.


    Dreams are all well and good old mucker, but they don't feed you.

    Would you suggest that everyone who can't do their dream job should be funded out of the public pot? That way lies bankruptcy methinks.

    I do find your contempt for shelf stackers offensive. Its how both our current and previous CEOs started out. If everyone was "too good" for it, there would be a lot of empty shelves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    154 blamegame

    It depends how far you go back. In the 60's and 70's it was queueing in line at the payments office for your "dole" money.

    As in "dole " dole out and "queue" as in stand in an orderly line

    I know. I did it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    sighs @ 160

    Fair enough (and cheers/beers for 'unblacking' me). Hey, don't be too 'realistic' with your kids, though, will you? Without Dreams We Are Mere Machines.

    fubar @ 162

    Waitrose? Can't see them doing something like this. The pomegranate molasses might get put in the wrong place. Going off them, actually, Waitrose. Rather wish we had a Tesco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    F_S and MfM -possibly others?
    Christina Patterson isn't one of my favourites at the Indy but she did once write a stonking piece during that rather brief period when a poll showed a five point lead for Dave, which listed disaster after dismal disaster that the Coalition had suffered. Her conclusion was that the poll lead was because Dave had PR skills and Ed M hadn't. Quite liked that one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    If I want a small wall built & get quotes from 2 builders, I would choose the cheaper of the 2 assuming they're the same quality.
    If I want someone to design & be responsible for a new house, I’d happily pay a premium for someone with the talent & experience to deliver what I want.
    That is what free market capitalism is all about....


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