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FIRMS ACCUSED OF SANTA SLAVERY; THREE YEARS ON ANGER OVER UNPAID STAFF Jobless youngsters still don't get a penny for work.

Byline: Mark Aitken

Almost 10,000 young people in Scotland each year are still taking part in a controversial free labour scheme despite major firms backing out.

Thousands of jobless youngsters work for free during the Christmas rush as part of the Government's unpaid work experience scheme, which has been branded "exploitative" by politicians and campaigners.

We can reveal supermarket giants Tesco pulled out this year following similar moves by Superdrug and Argos.

But retailers such as B&M and Poundland have since signed up to the programme.

More than 31,000 people across Scotland carried out unpaid work experience between January 2011 and May this year.

An analysis of DWPFIGURESSUGGESTs that 9770 worked for free in 2014-15, compared with 9110 in 2013-14.

SNP MSP John Mason said: "I am taken aback that this is still going on. I would have thought after the Sunday Mail's investigation the DWP and companies would have drawn back from the scheme."

Michael Cormack, of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, said: "We think this exploits people and undermines workers' wages and conditions. There's been a groundswell of opposition from the public. It's a case of hoping we can force a change."

A spokesman for B&M said: "We employ 20,000 colleagues across the UK. Only a very small number of those are employed under the Government's work placement programme.

"Since 2014, when we first participated in this employment programme, we have placed more than 70 per cent of participants back into permanent employment - all of whom are now highly-valued members of our team."

Baker Greggs said "some" of the youngsters who carried out work experience had been offered jobs.

A spokesman said: "This programme is entirely voluntary and not restricted to young Jobcentre Plus candidates but open to a number of disadvantaged groups of people who we work with and have contact with.

"We ensure that where possible, paid roles are offered upon completion by placing people in areas of the business where vacancies are likely to exist.

"During 2015, we have offered 52 placements, some of which have resulted in offers of employment. Our placement offer is between two and four weeks and reflects the same hours someone in that permanent position would work.

"At the end of the placement, a candidate is given a review and offered a reference."

Poundland recruited more than 250 unpaid youngsters this year.

A spokeswoman said: "The scheme allows people to experience retail.

"They are trained in customer service, health and safety and visual merchandising - all of which is valuable practical experience for the individual to use in their future careers.

"Upon completion of the programme, individuals are invited to apply for a permanent or seasonal role."

Instore, who operate for Tesco, Asda and B&Q, also take part in the scheme.

A spokesman said: "We've supported a small number of people through the programme in Scotland and a good proportion have moved to permanent positions, successfully taking them out of long-term unemployment."

Employment Minister Priti Patel said: "As a one-nation Government, we want young people in Scotland to benefit from a growing economy and everyone who works hard gets the opportunities they need to succeed.

"That is why we have expanded our work experience scheme to give our talented young people the confidence they need to get that first crucial step on their career ladder.

"I'm always being told you can't get a job without work experience and you can't get work experience without a job. With thousands of young people moving into work experience or training every week, this should help."

There has been a groundswell of opposition from the public

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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 20, 2015
Words:616
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