Bad press and in-store protests have caused health product retailer Holland and Barrett to pull out of the government’s various employment schemes.
Instead of using people sent to the company by the department for Work and pensions, on any of their "voluntary" schemes - even though claimants were wrongly told these schemes were mandatory - as a source of unpaid labour, Holland and Barrett has taken the decision to pay those unpaid workers through the government's apprenticeship programme.
Announcing the decision on their Facebook page, Holland and Barrett wrote: "At Holland & Barrett, we take our responsibilities as a retailer and employer very seriously, and any possible compromise to the safety of our staff and customers from opponents of our work experience scheme is treated with great importance.
"This factor, together with the planned introduction of a new full time, salaried apprentice scheme, means that the 60 people currently undertaking the work experience scheme will be the last to complete the eight week placement. After this time Holland & Barrett will not participate further in that scheme."
One of the organisers of the in-store protests, Solidarity Federation's Jim Clark says: "Holland & Barrett's claim that pickets of stores could offer a possible compromise to the safety of staff and customers is completely baseless. On our pickets, the first people we spoke to were the staff, many of whom told us they agreed with the aim of our campaign and that overtime was no longer available in some stores as it was being done by unpaid workfare labour instead."
Good news for those who previously had to do unpaid – and in many cases the most menial – work or face losing their benefits: in addition to the training and work experience an apprenticeship provides, there’s also a wage of at least £2.60 an hour waiting for them.
It’s too early to tell yet, but they may even receive the offer of a permanent position at the end of their training as, in many cases, do other apprentices around the country.