The Void on how M&S Exploits its Workers

Here are two very interesting pieces by the Void criticising M & S for exploiting their workers. The first of these is about how M&S have boasted that they intend to have two per cent of their workforce formed by people on workfare schemes, in effect giving M&S free labour. This piece naturally has the title 2 Per Cent of Our Workers Don’t Get Paid Boasts Marks and Spencer. it’s at

The second article asks the very good question Is M&S Workfare Scheme Illegal? The introduction to this reads

Marks and Spencer’s mealy mouthed response to criticism over their use of mass workfare has prompted the company to furiously deny that the scheme is anything to do with the DWP.

Whilst this piles yet more humiliation on hapless Iain Duncan Smith – who is fast running out of friends – it also appears to be an admission from the company that their workfare scheme is illegal.

As has been repeatedly pointed out this week by @BoycottWorkfare, so called ‘work experience’ programmes are only exempt from the minimum wage laws if they are government backed schemes.

This article’s at:

I’ve included both these pieces as not only do they illustrate the way workfare is being used to exploit people seeking work by these firms, it also raises a point a friend mentioned to me about how the way welfare payments are also being used to enhance the profits of the retail giants that pay low wages or insist on part time work. One of the great supermarket chains has a number of positions that are only part-time. It nevertheless insists that the workers in these jobs only work for them, and don’t try to make ends meet by taking a second job elsewhere. The result is that their part-time workers are thus dependent on Housing Benefit and/or other welfare payments to pay their rent or mortgages and keep the wolf from the door. In effect, the British welfare state is helping the supermarkets to make their millions by keeping their workers low paid.

This type of exploitation has been a problem with welfare payments since the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the major forms of poor relief in England from the 17th to the 18th century was the so-called ‘Speenhamland System’, after the parish that pioneered it in the sixteenth century. Under the Speenhamland System a poor rate was levied on parishioners, which was paid to the parish poor. Unfortunately, it was also used to exploit them by unscrupulous employers and put low paid workers in a poverty trap. Some farmers used the System to pay low wages to their workers, knowing that the parish would top up the wages they paid them. It was one of the reasons why the Liberal government of 1832 introduced the notorious workhouses. They attempted to abolish the Speenhamland System and replace it with ‘Indoor Relief’ in the workhouses, which was intended to be cheaper than the system it replaced. Conditions in the workhouses were to be hard and unpleasant, to dissuade people seeking relief and becoming a drain on the community. The result was the world of Oliver Twist and the truly horrific world of the workhouse. In the face of such opposition, a number of parishes refused to build them. The radical Joseph Rayner Stephens in 1838 told an audience ‘WE HAVE NO POOR LAW’. Nevertheless, the workhouse was only abolished with the establishment of the British welfare state after the 1946.

The workhouses are too notorious for only government even to complete bring them back. As for the welfare state being used to support the profitability of big firms such as M&S, the only real solution is to pass legislation forcing them to do like every decent employer does, and pay a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Employees working part time should be allowed to find second jobs, or paid higher wages so that they are not reduced to seeking Housing Benefit, when their wages or salaries should cover their housing costs.

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One Response to “The Void on how M&S Exploits its Workers”

  1. rainbowwarriorlizzie Says:


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