Business Forum condemned for ‘forced labour’

Leader of the Green opposition, Cllr Caroline Russell with anti-Workfare protestors last Thursday

Leader of the Green opposition, Cllr Caroline Russell with anti-Workfare protestors last Thursday - Credit: Archant

But business says workers are there by choice

A work scheme described as “exploitative” has been met with widespread opposition after Finsbury Park business forum was found to be using it to employ “some of the most vulnerable people” as station wardens.

Workfare, also known as Community Work Placements, was launched by the government in April last year, and requires the long term unemployed to work 30 unpaid hours per week for six months in order to receive a Job Seeker’s Allowance of £72 a week.

The Department of Work and Pensions state the scheme is designed to equip people with “the skills and confidence needed to get back into work”, but leader of the Green Party opposition on Islington Council, Cllr Caroline Russell, has condemned Finsbury Park Business Forum for “forced, unpaid labour” to employ station wardens in Finsbury Park station.

Under the scheme, wardens that miss one day of work run the risk of losing one month of benefit payments, forcing many to work through illness.

On Thursday last week, Cllr Russell joined a lunchtime protest against Community Work Placements, organised by Boycott Workfare and Haringey Solidarity Group at Finsbury Park Station.

She said: “Islington Council has ensured that Job Centre Plus does not refer Islington residents for the Workfare scheme running at Finsbury Park.

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“Workfare is forced, unpaid labour that relies on exploiting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

At tonight’s full Council meeting, Cllr Russell will table a question asking the Town Hall to pressure Finsbury Park Business Forum to end their participation in the Workfare scheme and to ensure station wardens are paid the London living wage.

But Courtney Bailey, chairman of the Finsbury Park Business Forum, hit back at comments that their use of the scheme may be exploitative.

He said: “All of the wardens that we take on at Finsbury Park station want to be on the programme. We’ve always taken the view that wardens should do want they want, and why are these organisations like Boycott Workfare, telling wardens what they should want?

“We do not penalise or sanction anyone if they have taken a valid day off for sickness.