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Controversial website fuels 'black market economy' for jobs
A controversial new website gives employers the chance to recruit students for the cheapest wage offered
Wednesday, 03 February, 2010 | 09:00
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Credit: Usefulstudents.com

A new student recruitment website based in Edinburgh has been launched amid a raft of criticism from unions and student leaders, who have described it as “immoral and exploitative”.

Usefulstudents.com advertises jobs which students apply for based on a personal statement and, controversially, the wage they offer to work for.

This has attracted skepticism from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and the National Union of Students (NUS), who have warned that the 'bidding' process may encourage students to offer low rates for work.

Liam Burns, president of NUS Scotland, told The Journal: “I'm pretty worried about the idea of an ebay for student work and I'm even more worried of how this website interacts with the minimum wage.

“The site is right to say that securing part-time work has become far more difficult over the past year, and some innovation in helping students to find work isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm sure the intentions behind the site are good.

“Nonetheless, the idea that we should be pitting students off against each other to see who can be taken advantage of the most is pretty awful.”

Employers state a maximum price they are willing to pay, and then applicants are asked to state what they would be willing to work for equal to or lower than this maximum.

Evan Beswick, vice president academic affairs at Edinburgh University Students' Association, echoed Mr Burns concerns: “Usefulstudents.com is a website which encourages students to 'outbid' each other for jobs. Essentially, whoever is prepared—or has the parental support—to work for the lowest wage gets the job.

“It's elitist, immoral and exploitative.”

The service was founded by two graduates of Edinburgh University, to offer student specific job opportunities which they describe as “hardly catered for”.

Co-founder Andrew Howes has defended the site, saying whilst value for money would be a key element of decisions made by employers, the lowest quoted price would not necessarily lead to employment.

“The site offers students a convenient, user friendly way to apply for one off or part time jobs which allow easy access to extra money whilst at university,” said Mr Howes.

“The job provider can make an informed decision based on the combination of the quote, the students experience and the previous feedback the student has been given.”

Students registering on the site are asked to provide a photo and personal statement before being able to apply for advertised positions. They are then asked to 'bid' for jobs and provide brief explanations of why they would be suitable.

It offers both paid employment and work placements. Amongst those bodies currently offering positions are nightclub Electric Circus (up to £20 per hour) and The Edinburgh International Science Festival (unpaid work placements).

The STUC has also warned that the casual nature of some employment offers will mean that students are not given the normal rights given to part-time employees.

Ian Tasker, STUC assistant secretary told The Journal: "While appreciating that casual employment maybe attractive to working students having to sell their labour in what amounts to nothing more than a web based slave market, this is astonishing in the 21st century.

“These workers will not have protection offered by permanent part-time employment including the duty every employer has to provide a contract of employment and ensure that their workers are insured against injury through Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance.

"Students seeking employment in this way should be very wary of taking employment in the black economy as they will have little or no legal comeback if things go wrong.”

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