Public Interest Lawyers is an extraordinary firm of solicitors, who must be – certainly should be – the pride of the legal profession. Through their tenacity, quality and sheer hard work – often from unpromising beginnings and in dark times for public funding – they have single-handedly been responsible for shining the torchlight of legal accountability in a range of new areas. The work continues unabated. No barrister or judge, here or in Strasbourg, could have come to deal with the sorts of human rights issues which PIL continues to raise, but for their principled and brave pursuit of justice.

 

PIL demonstrates three further important things. First, how positive and constructive can be the use of public funding in public law cases, in the public interest. It has been hard. But PIL and the LSC have forged a partnership which is second to none, as to the importance of the cases that are brought, their success and their wider impact. Secondly, PIL demonstrates that London does not always lead, and a London-centric focus is neither helpful nor fair. This firm, from what are still sometimes thought of as “the provinces”, is the nation’s leader for human rights application in challenging cases. That PIL is looking, as a Birmingham-based firm. How refreshing for it to be that way.Thirdly, let it not be forgotten that PIL was set up as a new firm of solicitors. This is not the further and continued work of an established firm, set up long ago when times were different. This was an innovation; a leap of faith in the rule of law. It was a boat launched in a sea of uncertainty, which has turned out to be the flagship for public law accountability under the rule of law.

 

Michael Fordham QC
Michael Fordham QC
 
 

Guardian: TK Maxx joins retailers quitting unpaid work scheme for jobseekers

Shiv Malik
 
A central plank in the government's unemployment strategy has suffered another set back after another high street retailer confirmed that it had withdrawn from using unpaid benefit claimants to work in its stores.

The discount clothing store TK Maxx has said it no longer supports the Department of Work and Pensions' work experience schemes in which jobseekers can have their benefits removed if they do not work unpaid for up to 30 hours a week. TK Maxx said: "We take our responsibilities as a retailer and employer very seriously and work with a number of bodies that help people get into work. We do not currently support compulsory non-paid work experience in our business."

Sainsbury's and Waterstones announced during the last fortnight that they had pulled out from such schemes. The Guardian understands that Poundland is also reviewing its policy towards the schemes, variously known as work experience, mandatory work activity and sector-based work academies. Poundland was named in high court papers alleging that a placement at its store in Birmingham had breached a jobseeker's human rights.

Tesco faced criticism and abuse after a link to a jobcentre advert was posted on Twitter appearing to show it hiring for a permanent role as a night shift worker for which it would pay only jobseeker's allowance as a wage.

Customers began bombarding the the store with complaints on Twitter and on the company's Facebook site threatening to withdraw their custom.

The Guardian also found adverts for similar unpaid Tesco roles in Clevedon, Somerset, and Dinnington, Yorkshire, posted on the government's job search site this month. A 21-year-old jobseeker told the Guardian last November that he had worked for Tesco for seven weeks stacking and cleaning shelves and doing the same work as other employees with little support or training.

Tesco, the UK's largest private employer which made over £3.5bn profit last April, said that it had taken on 1,400 such claimants in the last four months amounting to 168,000 hours of unpaid work assuming all participants in the scheme work for 30hrs a week.

The supermarket has since blamed an IT error for the posting and the DWP also said that it was an error for the role to have been described as permanent. Under current government rules, it is illegal to take on jobseekers for longer than six months.

The DWP added that other details in the advert were misleading and should not have been posted. But the department confirmed that the post would involve unpaid work at Tesco for several weeks with the prospect of an interview for a job.

Joanna Long, spokeswoman for campaign group Boycott Workfare called on Tesco to follow the lead of other companies and quit the schemes.

"Tesco counts its profits in the billions yet is getting thousands of people's work for nothing. This is bad news for jobseekers who risk having the pittance that is JSA stopped if they refuse to take part. It is also bad news for paid staff – as workfare on an industrial scale is seeing overtime cut and staff sent home.

"Since there is no recourse for people forced to work without pay, unemployed people are often forced to do the worst jobs and have been denied adequate safety equipment. We look forward to seeing Tesco join the growing number of high street brands opting out of the government's forced labour schemes.

Tesco said: "We take our responsibility as Britain's biggest private sector employer seriously and are playing our part to help tackle unemployment in these challenging times.

"We are participating in a government-led voluntary work experience scheme to help give young people valuable experience of the workplace. Over 300 young people have recently gained a paid job at Tesco following their work experience in recent months."

A DWP spokesman said: "A vast number of businesses are involved in providing work experience schemes, including some of Britain's biggest names, and they are a valuable way to support young people to get jobs; and of course, work experience placements are voluntary until after the first week's experience when we expect people to turn up to placements."
 


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