Workers in the hospitality industry are crying out for an extension of the furlough scheme and additional state support, after the government announced new restrictions on the sector which could damage its already precarious recovery.
On Tuesday (September 22), prime minister Boris Johnson announced new England-wide restrictions in response to a spike in coronavirus cases, many of which target hospitality settings.
From this week, pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues will be hit with a 10pm curfew. The prime minister emphasised that this means premises must be completely shut by 10pm and not simply taking last orders.
Hospitality staff must wear masks while at work, and customers must also wear masks, unless they are seated at a table to eat and drink. All food and drink venues will be restricted by law to table service only.
The ‘rule of six’ will be more strictly enforced, with no more than six people legally allowed to gather in or out of doors, and with pubs and restaurants told to monitor their customers to ensure they are following the rules.
The new regulations call for hospitality venues themselves “to take all reasonable measures to ensure that parties of more than six may not book or gain entry to the business that different parties … at the venue do not mingle.”
The new restrictions were met with disappointment by the hospitality industry, with many industry bodies pointing to data from Public Health England (PHE) showing that of the most recent Covid-19 outbreaks, only less than 5 per cent occurred in pubs or restaurants, with the majority occurring in care homes, schools and workplaces.
While it is not yet clear how badly the new restrictions will impact the hospitality sector, what is beyond doubt is that the impending end of the furlough scheme on October 31 has already prompted many business in the industry to slash jobs.
Most recently, hospitality giant Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn and Beefeater, announced on Tuesday (September 22) that it would be slashing an astonishing 6,000 jobs.
While Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett highlighted Whitbread’s “cynical coronavirus opportunism” for taking government furlough money but still pushing through huge job cuts, despite the company raising a “£1bn acquisition war chest”, he also said the sector as a whole desperately needed government support to survive.
“Urgent government action is also required,” Beckett said. “The hospitality sector was the first to suffer during the lockdown and will be the last to emerge from the restrictions – it is in desperate need of support.
“Unless the government offers sector specific assistance, either by extending furlough or initiating a short time working scheme, we’re going to witness hundreds of thousands of hotel, bar and restaurant jobs disappear over the coming months,” he added.
Industry body UK Hospitality warned that 900,000 more jobs in the hospitality sector could go to the wall if additional sector-specific support is not forthcoming, on top of the 100,000 jobs in hospitality which have already been lost.
Meanwhile, former Pizza Express boss Luke Johnson told BBC Newsnight this week that if the furlough scheme was not extended or replaced with a different scheme, “of the 3m [currently on furlough] at least a million, maybe more, will be made redundant”.
UniteLIVE highlighted today that both the prime minister and the Treasury have hinted that a new successor to the furlough scheme could very well soon be in the offing. But, as Unite has repeatedly emphasised, time is running out, especially for the hardest-hit sectors such as hospitality.
Commenting, Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said, “Hospitality remains in a perilous state, and while the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme did give it a much needed boost, it was only ever temporary. The government’s new restrictions will inevitably hit the industry hard.
“With up to a million hospitality jobs hanging in the balance, workers desperately need the Chancellor to step in with targeted sector specific support, either by extending furlough or initiating a short-term working scheme,” he added.
“For the UK’s once thriving hospitality sector to have a future we also need measures to tackle the issue of landlords demanding rents from premises which are not able to operate at full capacity because of government’s restrictions.”
By Hajera Blagg