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Holland & Barrett drops work scheme
A leading health food retailer threatened with protests over its involvement with the Government's work experience programme has pulled out of the scheme.
Holland & Barrett said it was treating the safety of its staff and customers with great importance.
The company, which has been supporting the programme for more than a year, said it was now launching its own apprentice scheme.
A group called Boycott Workfare is planning a series of protests across the country over the next week, including plans to target Holland & Barrett stores.
A company statement said: "Holland & Barrett has been working with the Government on a voluntary work experience scheme to provide retail skills to 18 to 24-year-olds. As a direct result of these eight-week placements, more than 200 young people have gone on to successfully be appointed to permanent positions within the company.
"We remain committed to helping young people find work, and have worked with the Department for Work and Pensions for over a year on the current scheme. 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 the scheme."
Employment minister Chris Grayling said: "It is a disgrace that anyone should seek to target a company that is trying to help young unemployed people in this way.
"The people involved in these protests have absolutely no idea of the damage they're doing to the job prospects of the next generation. I'm determined to stand up firmly against these protesters; what they're doing is totally unacceptable."
The Boycott Workfare network has pledged to escalate its campaign of opposition, describing the scheme as "forced unpaid work". Demonstrations are being planned over the next week in more than 20 towns and cities.