Work Experience needs to be worthwhile experience
Posted by Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, at 09:35, Fri 8 June 2012:
I know many people in Trafford enjoyed a weekend of jubilee and bank holiday celebrations, and as I travel round the constituency, the bunting is still on display. It’s great that so many people took the opportunity to celebrate – I was very pleased to join residents at the aptly named Jubilee Court in Old Trafford this week as part of the celebrations.
But I was very concerned to read media reports of the treatment of some young volunteers who’d travelled to London to help with stewarding and security, abandoned in the small hours without a place to stay or any facilities or food. In the rush to promote the Big Society and its ideas for volunteering, the government’s really missing the point. Volunteering isn’t about being exploited, or doing work on the cheap. We already know from the fate of plans for volunteers to run libraries here in Trafford that communities won’t accept being taken for granted. There needs to be proper recognition of the role and importance of volunteers, proper support and respect for them, and the infrastructure to provide this.
And work experience isn’t about working for nothing either. I’m all in favour of genuine work experience that gives people the chance to gain a taste of the world of work, and demonstrate this to future employers, and to build up their confidence. I’m really proud that we’re able to give short periods of work experience in my office to young people locally – we love having them, and we work closely with local schools to ensure that it’s a worthwhile experience for them.
We know that many people are keen to try work experience, and it can improve employment prospects - Jobcentre Plus in Stretford tell me that around half of those on benefits who undertake periods of work experience of between 2 and 8 weeks are going into jobs.
That’s good news at a time when the job market’s so competitive, but it’s important that the work experience people get genuinely enhances employment prospects, and that it doesn’t just become a cheap way for employers to keep replenishing their workforce free of charge. Working for months on end and not being paid properly isn’t experience –it’s exploitation – if there’s a job to be done, it should be properly paid.
But next week in parliament we’re debating changes the government wants to introduce to weaken employee rights. Never mind that business leaders are opposed to the no-fault dismissal the government wants to introduce –that would mean people could be fired at will. The government’s determined to press ahead. Yet they should be making it easier to hire people, not fire people, when unemployment’s so high.
Giving businesses a national insurance break if they take on new workers would be welcomed by employers and by people looking for work. But the government’s policies have totally failed. These are the points Labour will be making in the debate in parliament next week.