When we hear of someone being sent to work for nothing at a small community organisation we always hope that there’s been a mistake and that the organisation hasn’t been fully aware of the nature of what they have signed up to. And so we write to them and explain and ask them to think again. But we also make it clear that if they don’t pull back, we will name and shame them for their exploitation. We recently wrote to three organisations here in Dundee, and not one of them even bothered to answer us. All three provide an important community service, but in each case we have spoken to people who have not only been forced to work there without pay or lose their benefits, but have also complained about how they were treated when they got there. The three organisations are Mid-Lin Day Care Centre, the Deaf Hub and the Maxwell Centre.
While they are not the worst, I was particularly shocked to find the Maxwell Centre involved because I like the place – and I particularly like the community garden. But it was the garden where our contact was being made to work. Mark has been a landscape gardener in the past, so he was a bit surprised when Learndirect, his Work Programme Provider, sent him to work in the community garden for four weeks to build his experience. He was even more surprised when he found that he was given almost no gardening work. In fact he was treated as a general dogsbody, being expected to tidy up, make tea, and hoover the floors in the centre. He was also expected to use his own car to move material about.
He worked hard for three days hoping that these issues would be resolved, but when it was clear that nothing was going to change, he felt he had no option but to leave. We helped him write to Learndirect to explain why he had ‘good cause’ to do so.