Extend furlough call

Ahead of expected four-week delay to lockdown easing, Unite reiterates call for continued financial support for workers and hard-hit industries

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As the government prepares to delay lockdown easing for another four weeks, Unite has reiterated its call for continued financial support for workers and their beleaguered industries.

Government sources told the BBC and other news outlets that the delay, which will mean another four weeks of lockdown measures in place after the initially planned June 21 re-opening, has been signed off by senior ministers and will be confirmed by prime minister Boris Johnson tonight (June 14).

Had the fourth and final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown gone ahead as planned on June 21, venues and events would have been allowed to operate without capacity limits and venues that were previously closed, such as night clubs, would be allowed to re-open.

The last stage out of lockdown would also have seen the lifting of limits on gatherings in people’s homes, which is currently set at six people or two households of any size.

Although a majority of the British public back the delay to lockdown easing in the wake of a growing number of cases of the more virulent Delta strain of Covid-19, the news will come as a blow to already hard-hit industries such as hospitality and civil aviation.

Trade body UKHospitality estimates that the four-week delay will cost the sector roughly £3bn in lost sales. Meanwhile, research from CGA and Alix Partners found that a quarter of all licensed premises, including pubs, restaurants, cafes, night clubs and other venues, remain closed because under current restrictions and capacity constraints their businesses are not viable.  

Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said that while workers in the industry eagerly anticipated the full ending of restrictions on the hospitality sector – only when the virus was under control and the public health situation warranted it – he said that they’d had enough of low wages and poor terms and conditions that have blighted the sector for too long.

“The hospitality industry has been one of the worst hit industries in this crisis, and no doubt the further delaying of lockdown easing will see many struggling businesses in the sector struggle even more,” Turnbull said. “That’s why we’re calling for a new deal for the hospitality sector with government support measures to help the industry recover, including the extension of furlough, adequate sick pay for workers, and investment in training.

“But this must all be underpinned by a commitment from employers to ensure jobs in the sector are decently paid and decently treated,” he added. “We have a clear opportunity to end the endemic low-pay, long-hours culture and make the industry one that people are truly proud to work for.”

The civil aviation industry is also struggling, amid the government’s chaotic traffic-light system for foreign travel. Only a handful of countries are on the ‘green list’ for quarantine-free travel. Earlier this month, Portugal, one of the only countries in Europe then on the green list and a popular holiday destination, was suddenly removed from the list after only three weeks.

It is understood that the sudden decision to remove Portugal is what prompted British Airways to announce it would be placing thousands of its staff on furlough and thousands more on reduced hours.

Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson slammed the government for its dithering on travel restrictions throughout the crisis that has left the industry facing so much uncertainty.

“All areas of the aviation industry including airlines, airports and ground handlers are currently in the process of reviewing downwards the planning assumptions around their schedules and activity,” he said.

“This is a direct consequence of the government’s lack of transparency and its decision-making process with regards to the travel industry,” Richardson added. “While the rest of the UK’s industry is reducing the use of furlough and getting back to work, the aviation sector is being forced to move in the entirely opposite direction.”

Both industry trade bodies and Unite and other unions are now lobbying the government to again extend the furlough scheme, where the government covers a proportion of furloughed workers’ wages, beyond the current September cut-off date.

From July 1st, the furlough scheme is set to be scaled back to where the government will cover 70 per cent of workers’ wages – down from 80 per cent previously — while employers are expected to cover 10 per cent and workers forgo the remaining 20 per cent.

But hospitality employers have pointed out that there are many venues, such as night clubs, that will not be able to legally open if lockdown easing is delayed, while other venues will continue to operate on much reduced capacity, meaning employers will struggle to meet their contributions from July 1.

From August, employers’ contributions will increase further to 20 per cent, with the government’s contributions decreasing to 60 per cent, before the furlough scheme is set to end altogether in September. It has been reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak is not planning on extending the scheme despite demands from industry.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner urged the government to take action and protect workers who face a cliff edge of job losses if the furlough scheme is not extended.

 “With an extension of lockdown now likely, [chancellor] Rishi Sunak must move early to extend furlough and the Universal Credit uplift through 2022 to protect the most vulnerable and at continued risk,” he said.

By Hajera Blagg

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