Gina Davidson: It’s cappuccino way to operate

Asking volunteers to serve coffee instead of trained baristas leaves a bad taste. Picture: TSPL
Asking volunteers to serve coffee instead of trained baristas leaves a bad taste. Picture: TSPL
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YOU may well have heard of the Common Weal as the organisation’s profile rose significantly during the referendum campaign.

Take a look at its website and you’ll see it aims to free Scotland from a “grasping, me first politics, a survival of the richest, winner takes all mentality” and give the country a future “in which politics puts all of us first”. All incredibly laudable.

It also wants to “create better quality jobs that will make our people more prosperous”. Excellent stuff.

This week, the social enterprise advertised for baristas to serve coffee at an Edinburgh cafe, The Common, of an evening when meetings or talks are being held. Six of them, on a rotational basis. Half a dozen new jobs it seemed.

But the small print read differently. These weren’t paid hours. Rather than trained baristas, it was looking for people to volunteer to pour coffee for those who were attending the talks.

The advert was quickly changed, but too late as the heady aroma of principles being slowly roasted had swirled through social media and the values of the Common Weal were subject to as much scrutiny as used coffee grounds by a sideshow fortune teller.

Asking people to work for free is surely the job of the Department for Work and Pensions, not organisations with lofty ideals.

Just ask electronics expert John McArthur. He is refusing to do just that at another social enterprise, LAMH Recycle in Motherwell, as he has been instructed to do by the DWP.

He had previously been employed there on the minimum wage until his temporary contract ended. So why, he wonders rightly, should he work for free doing a job which was previously paid? Why should his unemployment benefit be stopped as a result of him refusing?

But why would a social enterprise agree to offer unpaid work? Especially to those who need a wage, not “experience”.

Social enterprises are big news in the third sector. Not charities, they are businesses who are expected to ensure that any profit is used for the benefit of their staff, the people they support or the environment, rather than given to shareholders. Their business plans should not involve people working for free.

Organisations who don’t pay folk for making coffees are community groups who have a rota for putting the kettle on and dishing out the Nescafe sachets. Or they are charities which rely on volunteers to man stalls, sell raffle tickets or do a couple of hours a week in their shop – if they have the time. Or they are causes – even political ones – for which people happily give up their time to campaign.

But there’s a world of difference between asking for volunteers to give up some time for a good cause and advertising a job, in this case, for baristas. It would seem that reasonable volunteer policies seem to have drifted, however unintentionally, into questionable employment practices, maybe because unemployment levels among the young have risen so substantially.

While volunteering can be enriching, even kick-starting some careers, asking for baristas – trained coffee makers, skilled in the mysterious arts of macchiatos and mochas – to work for nowt leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Common Weal has admitted it made a mistake. It was hardly the worst thing it could have done. But it’s one which, with its brave new world ideals, shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Social enterprises and charities exist on the moral high ground. They can’t afford to lower their standards. The DWP shouldn’t be their role model.

Politics reduced to a food fight

HAD to laugh at my fellow columnist Martin Hannan’s apparent outrage that Ed Miliband included food produced by Baxters and Tunnock’s in his donation to a Glasgow food bank last week.

This, he declared, was idiotic and obviously dreamed up by cretins, and all because those particular food firms had backed the No campaign during the referendum.

While I doubt that anyone who is forced into using food banks would turn their nose up at Tunnock’s teacakes or Baxters soup, Martin had obviously forgotten that Alex Salmond last week performed his first ever supermarket opening, a new Lidl store. And why? Because it wasn’t a union-supporting branch of Asda.

Idiocy, it would seem, abounds.

44-year battle yet to be won

IT was Equal Pay Day on Tuesday. But before you get out the bunting and the fizz, it wasn’t quite a celebration of men and women earning the same for carrying out commensurate work.

Nor was it the anniversary of the date when equal pay legislation came into force. That was 44 years ago, in case you hadn’t noticed.

No, it was Equal Pay Day because of a raft of new research showing how wide the gap between the sexes and their salaries really is.

According to the Fawcett Society, for the next 57 days women are effectively working for free because they’re paid an average of £5200 per annum less than men; the World Economic Forum said the UK had fallen out of the top 20 countries in the world for gender equality (behind even Nicaragua and Burundi); TUC research revealed that men in full-time work have double the chances of earning a high salary compared to female colleagues who work the same hours.

Four decades on, women’s fight for equal pay is still not done.