Huge firms including Tesco, Argos and Superdrug have stepped up their recruitment of people on workfare for the Christmas season.
Workfare sees people on benefits made to work for free for the chains, with the threat of losing their benefits hanging over them if they refuse.
There is evidence that the companies are taking on young people unpaid to help handle the Christmas rush. They can tell people to work for up to six weeks with no pay, including on days over the Christmas period that many people would most want to take as holiday.
Tesco says it has set a target of recruiting 3,000 people on “work experience”. The government has set an overall target of 100,000 work experience placements.
A civil service source said that employers have been told, “Don’t advertise jobs as vacancies. Let JobCentre Plus supply you people on work experience.”
It came as campaign group Boycott Workfare began its week of action, holding protests against workfare across Britain.