Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Goverment Defies Court To Reinstate Workfare

Despite the court's decision, the struggle against workfare continues...
It has been a dramatic day for the government schemes collectively known as 'workfare'. After a Royal Courts of Justice ruling this morning, it appeared that the coalition's policy was in tatters, and that the state would be liable for payments to claimants sanctioned for not taking part in the ultra-exploitative programmes. This evening, the Department for Work and Pensions claims it has re-written the rules, so workfare will be continue to be legal, and will presumably this will apply retroactively.

When Cait Reilly first took her case against being forced to work in Poundland for free to court, she lost, and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith branded her and other Workfare opponents "job snobs". Of course, it was never about feeling that certain types of work are below us, but rather that certain levels of pay - i.e. zero - are unacceptable.

This morning, judges ruled that Duncan Smith had acted unlawfully by giving the unemployed insufficient information about the penalties they faced and their rights to appeal against being made to work unpaid for often hundreds of hours. According to The Guardian, "The court ruling means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have been sanctioned under schemes such as Work Experience and the Work Programme are entitled to a rebate."

However, the government immediately hit back, declaring that: "We have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously." Of course, if the government was taking the social problem of unemployment seriously, it would: a) immediately stop all cuts, b) reverse those that have already taken place, and c) confiscate the ill-gotten riches of the super-rich and use the revenue to start a massive public works programme. But as representatives of those same financial aristocrats, they are happy with a situation where workfare chips away at the wages and job security of those in employment, building up an ever-larger reserve army of labour, willing to take any wage to do any work.

To that end, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it has re-written its own guidelines to comply with the ruling, arrogantly tweeting that: "For those of a parliamentary mind the Jobseekers Allowance (Schemes for Assisting Persons to Obtain Employment) Regs 2013 have been laid." A Google search took me to a link for the legislation, which is not due to come into force til 29th April this year - some ten weeks away. But despite this, the government asserts that all those on or about to start workfare schemes have to keep attending or face a loss of benefits, whilst denying that this amounts to anything approaching forced labour.

Confusion reigns, but to say the least the government's actions seem legally dubious, leaving aside the outrageous class warfare of their behaviour. For all the liberal democratic ideas about the courts being a check on the powers of the executive and the legislative branch, in the end the government holds the final supremacy whilst it controls police, army, and purse strings.

Further direct action will be necessary to knock out more workfare exploiters.
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