Chapter 4: A Futile Chore

Footnote: Workfare: Working For Nothing

Many self-styled moralists argue that the unemployed should be put to work to 'earn' their welfare. But if these 'unemployed' are thereby made to use their skills to do work that is of value, why should those for whom they work not pay them a fair living wage for that work?

In an attempt to get me back to work, one of the many job clubs I attended ar­ranged for me to do some voluntary work. A small local annex of a regional college ran what they called a returner's class. Most of its students were mature women who wished to return to work after their children had grown up a bit. They were being taught how to use general office software like word processors, spread sheets and databases.

I was to help out with the teaching. After the lecturer had finished going through the workings of a particular package I was to go around the class helping students get to grips with the package. I was unfamiliar with the particular packages the col­lege was using. However, over my long career in software I had actually designed and written such packages. It was therefore easy for me to become adept with the packages the college was using. In fact, I familiarised myself completely with each package while I was actually teaching it to those I was helping.

It soon became obvious to the students that my depth of knowledge was far greater than that of the lecturer. In fairness, this was not surprising. After all, I had had about 15 years longer than she had to acquire it. One of the students asked me why I was not taking a class of my own. I explained that I was long-term unempl­oyed and that I was working as a volunteer in the hope of getting a job there when one materialised.

When they learned that I was being paid absolutely nothing for what I was doing they were quite outraged and said that they would never consider such a thing. The official excuse for my being expected to work for nothing was that I had to prove myself to the college before it could consider taking me on. This seemed rather arrogant in the light of my 30+ years experience in the industry. When a vacancy did arise, the job was given to a young woman. Most of the staff were women from their mid twenties to mid forties. She therefore fitted in better with the team.

I soon discovered that I could never have become a lecturer anyway. I did not have the necessary teaching qualifications and had no means of acquiring them. I cert­ainly knew how to teach. I had spent a lot of time over many years training my customers to use my own software. But this did not count. Being able to teach was irrelevant. I needed a piece of paper to say I could teach. It was all leading no­where, so I quit.

I believe that if somebody is actually doing a job which the organisation for which he is doing it wants done, then that organisation should pay the proper wage for that job. All this so called voluntary work which I was doing was pure exploitation. It was the employer who was free-loading on the tax payer to provide my welfare, not me!

Parent Document | ©May 1998 Robert John Morton