Unpaid ‘volunteers’ replace real workers via council work experience schemes

White keyboard with close up on work buttonLocal councils are increasingly using people on welfare benefits to replace paid workers, the Financieele Dagblad says on Monday, quoting union officials.

Street sweepers, gardeners, librarians and home helps are among the jobs under threat, as councils use their powers to force benefit claimants to do ‘voluntary’ work in return for their money.

Among the examples cited by the paper: the Drente town of Meppel where bus drivers have been replaced by volunteers and benefit claimants, and the Gelderland towns of Aalten and Oude IJsselstreek where people on welfare (bijstand) have been forced to work a 32-hour week folding artificial flowers for sale in garden centres.

Legal action

Some people have made artificial flowers for more than four years, earning the councils over €500,000 a year, the officials claim.

The towns have now cut this work experience project to a maximum of six months but the union has rejected a proposal to give 170 people who have done the voluntary job for a longer period compensation of €1,000 each. Legal action is due to start next year.

The FD points out that earlier this year, The Hague agreed to give 260 unpaid street sweepers permanent jobs after one of them alerted the AD newspaper. He had lost his job as a street cleaner but was then told, while on benefits, he had to sweep the streets to build up work experience.

The paper says social affairs ministry inspectors have already warned councils to be alert about the use of unpaid labour and that minister Lodewijk Asscher has agreed to talk to local government officials about the issue.

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