If you don’t ask, you don’t get

Scottish unemployed workers’ network


This week’s report involves a recent case that came to us via email, which raised issues that have become all too common since the introduction of Universal Credit (UC). We reproduce below the initial inquiry from Alan, which is not only well written, concise, but also a model of clarity;

‘I have been helping a friend by accompanying him to his Job Coach interviews. Unfortunately, during an interview I couldn’t attend, they got him to update and sign his job search commitment to include job coach recommendations. He has since been sanctioned for not going to an Open Day at XXX Hotel. He says that the updating of his commitments occurred after The Open Day.

He suffers from Vestibular Disorder and, although his health has improved, he has problems with balance and also standing for a long time. He therefore has not been applying for jobs like bar or waiting work that he knows he could not do. In my opinion it is clear he has other mental issues though he does not see this himself. His doctor gave him a line recommending part-time work only. He has asked for a mandatory reconsideration of the sanction and a new job coach.

During a job coach interview that I attended Colin was told that if he did voluntary work, the hours he did would be taken off his job search hours commitment and that he could get travel time deducted as well. During the job coach interview before he was sanctioned, the job coach reneged on this and told him none of the hours would count.’

After a phone conversation with Alan, we arranged to phone Colin to discuss the case with him and our strategy, and also arranged to meet him fifteen minutes before his appointment with his new ‘job coach’. Colin is very keen to get off Universal Credit and back into the world of paid work, but, as he realises himself, he should really be treated as ‘having a limited capability for work’. Like countless others, however, he had failed his ESA Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and was now expected to meet the full job search demands. Our strategy, therefore, centred on renegotiating his ‘claimant commitment’ so that his job search hours would be reduced, his voluntary working hours deducted from his job search hours, and that he would not be expected to take work that meant long periods of standing – such as the bar jobs he was ‘recommended’ to apply for and which led to him being sanctioned.

With all the problems that Colin had experienced with his previous ‘job coach’, who appeared to view him as little more than sanction fodder, Colin was understandably nervous about going into the buroo. We attempted to put his mind at rest, assuring him that everything would be fine, and that he would probably notice a big change in the attitude of his new ‘job coach’. And, as we had predicted, the new job coach could not be more helpful, and all of the changes we proposed were agreed to in what was a very pleasant and productive half hour. Of course, it should be totally unnecessary, for Colin – or any other claimant – to be accompanied into meetings with their ‘job coach’ by a SUWN volunteer in order to have the issues and problems they raise to be taken seriously. The major lessons that claimants should take from this ‘wee victory’, however, is that if you are in a similar position to Colin and have recently failed a ESA WCA, this doesn’t mean you have to simply accept everything that your ‘job coach’ demands of you as a UC claimant. Most of all, remember the old adage – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The names of all people in this report have been changed to ensure their anonymity.

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There will be no unpaid workers at the Co-op!

end-unpaid-work_0Dorset IWW General Members’ Branch is pleased to announce that our dispute with a Bournemouth outlet of the Co-operative has been settled amicably. We have a verbal assurance from local management who are USDAW members, that they have no wish to exploit unpaid workers on their premises, and that their connection with ‘Prospects’ has been severed. We congratulate them on their principled decision and affirm our commitment to defeat the government’s work programme and end unpaid labour.

Nationally however, the situation is less clear; we have had sight of a Co-op internal document that sets out the parameters of their unpaid work experience programme. Whilst it insists that placements must be voluntary and offer meaningful experience, we note that vulnerable adults are being conscripted who may not be fully aware of their rights. It’s highly likely some of them will not be able to make an informed decision and/or will get browbeaten by jobcentre staff with targets to meet. Once they are on the scheme if they leave they may be deemed to have made themselves intentionally unemployed, and be sanctioned. Lastly of course, however you dress it up, it’s unpaid labour. How long does it take to assess a person’s suitability for working in a grocer’s shop? A week, two? Why then should a national chain not speculate a fortnight’s minimum wage to find out?coop

Victory at the job centre – an injury to one is an injury to all!

job_centre_plus2There is a way to help unemployed people who have ‘failed’ workplace assessments and a way was found here in Dorset.

A fellow worker with quite severe adult ADHD and anxiety disorder was recently the victim of a ridiculous workplace assessment and found totally fit for work without any consideration for his condition.

The fellow worker is in possession of a letter of diagnosis dated October 2014 that his ADHD and anxiety are so bad that he is unfit for work.

The fellow worker is also a single parent.

After the assessment ‘fail’ his ESA was immediately stopped and he was informed to file a claim for JSA and search for a job. No support, no guidance, nothing.

The fellow worker asked me to accompany him to the job centre and I did so.

The initial appointment was basically a ‘get the claim filed’ exercise designed to last about 10 minutes. This was no problem.

The fellow worker was then told that his next appointment would be a 40 minute appointment that would delve further into an appropriate type of work and any implications regarding his single parenthood. The JC adviser then told the fellow worker his appointment would be at a time that was ridiculous and gave the fellow worker no time to pick his daughter up from school.

The fellow worker asked for another appointment more appropriate and was told ‘no’.

The fellow worker then asked me for assistance. Together we demanded an appropriate appointment and the second time around after some faffing around in a back area we were given the appointment we wanted.

Getting this wish gave us 7 days to formulate a strategy to try to avoid the fellow worker being put into a position where :-

1. His mental health would deteriorate

2. He would be unable to take and collect his daughter to and from school

3. He would be able to construct a meaningful appeal against the work assessment’s ridiculous findings.

The answer was a good old fashioned GP’s sick note that the fellow worker had obtained at a GP’s vist immediately after the 10 minute interview at the jobcentre.

The fellow worker and I attended the job centre for the 40 minute appointment and rather than let the JC adviser control the interview the fellow worker took immediate control and presented his sick note clearly stating that he was signed off from work for 3 months with an anxiety disorder.

This gave us everything we wanted. The job centre adviser was forced to concede that JSA can be paid for up to 13 weeks on production of a sick note without there being any pressure on the claimant to search for work or be on any kind of workfare program.

I am pleased to say that our fellow worker will now be paid for 3 months at the full adult jobseekers rate, is under no pressure to attend the job centre, search for work or be mandated to attend workfare.

The pressure is now off and the task ahead is for our fellow worker to put together an appeal and have his ESA re-instated.

The important point in all this is that there is a role for union reps with job centre claimants.

The fellow worker approached the union for help and together we were able to identify a strategy that would achieve what the fellow worker wanted and we left the job centre fully satisfied with the outcome.

Credit goes to the fellow worker who owned the problem and with union assistance worked out his own solution.

He did tell me that support from the IWW had been crucial in him obtaining the confidence to clearly dominate the proceedings at the job centre and get the result he wanted.

He was quite anxious that because his ESA had been stopped, without an income he and his daughter would have problems being able to feed themselves and pay their rent.

I am please to report that this fellow worker and his daughter are now safe for 3 months pending appeal thanks to his presence of mind and appropriate IWW support.