‘WE’RE opposed to workfare, our position has not changed on that,’ a TUC spokesman told News Line yesterday.
He was responding to speeches by Prime Minister Brown and new Work and Pensions Secretary Purnell at a conference of ‘business leaders’ in London which proposed forced labour.
Brown said the government’s ‘Ready to work, skilled for work: Unlocking Britain’s Talent’ proposals aimed:
• to reform our welfare system and help move more benefit claimants into work;
• to ensure British young people and adults have the best skills for the new jobs of the future;
• and to give everyone in employment the chance to make the most of their potential – including through an unprecedented expansion in apprenticeships.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The expansion of apprenticeships must be based on improving quality, equality and establishing clear standards.
‘Many of the measures announced today support these aims.
‘But it’s disappointing that the government has delayed addressing a key problem with apprenticeships, that of poor pay.’
The TUC proposed a basic wage for apprentices of £110.
Barber said: ‘This would bring apprenticeship pay broadly into line with the minimum wage for 16-17 year olds.’
In his speech to the bosses, Brown slapped the TUC down.
He said: ‘I do not believe that we should price apprentices out of the market with unaffordable wage levels. . . The TUC must recognise that we must not move the apprenticeship away from what it is – potentially the best vocational training for work and a career, raising the young person’s prospects of earning a higher wage just as it boosts the employer’s productivity.’
Brown claimed that ‘the biggest barrier to full employment is now not the shortage of jobs but the shortage of skills among the unemployed and inactive.’
He stressed: ‘Our first priority is to move welfare claimants from passive recipients of benefit to active job and skill seekers and to match the talents of those on the dole to the needs of local employers. . . .
‘And to make sure Britain raises its education and skills game to world class, James Purnell will intensify welfare reforms to include compulsion for the unemployed and many inactive men and women not just to seek work but to acquire skills.’
He added: ‘We know that the biggest success stories are where mentors, coaches or role models have persuaded people to move from inactivity to work or to improve their skills – that where one-to-one help is given it can make all the difference.
‘And it is often the private or voluntary sectors, not government, who are best placed to provide this kind of support.’
Brown added: ‘Reinforcing this personalised approach will be stronger rights and responsibilities for benefit claimants – new incentives for training but in return more compulsion to take up those opportunities.
‘So if the unemployed don’t train when given the opportunity it will affect their benefit entitlement.
‘We want lone parents on benefit to be training in preparation for going back to work when their child goes to school.
‘And there will be a new regime for Incapacity Benefit claimants which, for the first time, will mean work for those who can, education or training for those with no skills, and treatment for those who need medical help.’
Moving on to his plans for youth, Brown said: ‘Today’s unskilled young people will be unemployable tomorrow unless they acquire skills. And again, the role of employers is at the heart of our approach.
‘After discussions with you we are raising the education and training leaving age to 18.
‘We are re-vitalising work-related education with new diplomas that will give young people the skills employers ask for.’
Yesterday it emerged that McDonald’s has won approval to offer courses which could form part of a qualification at the standard of A-levels or advanced Diplomas.
The fast-food giant, economy airline Flybe and Network Rail are the first firms to be approved to offer the Level 3 courses.