Sceptics cast doubt on Welfare to Work

15th August 1997 at 01:00
The Government's Pounds 3 billion scheme to get young people off the dole and into work could founder on resentment and suspicion of cheap, unskilled labour, according to employers and unions.

Peugeot, the Midlands car manufacturer, has already told Government officials that unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds will be unsuitable for a high-tech production line.

Some union representatives, meanwhile, have doubted the wisdom of drafting in subsidised recruits, privately dismissing them as workshy scroungers.

Six months of employment is one of four options under Welfare to Work. Young people jobless for more than six months could also choose six months of voluntary work with a charity or environmental task force, or up to a year in education with an allowance.

Mike Judge, personnel director of Peugeot in Coventry, told a conference promoting Welfare to Work that the company wanted to help but would not be recruiting for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, he said, there could be problems for unemployed people adjusting to work. When Peugeot took on a number of unemployed people in the late 1980s it faced an increase in absenteeism.

"It is very difficult to inject somebody into the production line and we are only recruiting well-qualified young people," said Mr Judge, although the firm would be asking suppliers, dealers and contractors such as caterers and cleaners to help to provide placements.

There has also been union scepticism. A spokesman for the MSF (Manufacturing, Science, Finance) union said: "I can see that in terms of a production process people who lack manufacturing skills could be a hindrance and slow down a company's production line.

"Overall we're in favour of Welfare to Work, but we feel that good quality apprenticeship schemes would be undermined by it if some unscrupulous employers take on subsidised young people rather than the best candidate for the job."

A spokesman for the shop workers' union, USDAW, was equally forthright. "We wouldn't stand for any suggestion that they are undercutting pay rates, " he said. "Once you pay subsidies you create anomalies in the recruitment of the workforce." He added that "some people make themselves deliberately unemployable by putting a bolt through their nose and dying their hair pink".

A local officer of the AEEU engineering union, who didn't wish to be named, said: "A minority of these people don't want to work at all, and are quite all right on benefit and fiddle, thank you. These people will cause problems because no one likes a scrounger."

Kay Cheesman, head of guidance and training at Gloucestershire Training and Enterprise Council, said: "One of the biggest challenges is going to be making sure youngsters are ready for the scheme. With some young people a lot of work needs to be done on their personal and social skills."

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