Reboot furlough call

Furlough reboot urgently to avert autumn jobs crisis as country told to `live with Covid', says Unite

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The drop in furlough support from Thursday (July 1) from 80 per cent to 70 per cent – with business making up the 10 per cent shortfall – could well push fragile employers to the wall, the country’s leading union warned today (June 29). 

With some three million workers still on furlough and the UK encountering its highest Covid infection rates since the peak time of January this year, Unite the union says that the crisis is far from over and is calling on the government to urgently rethink its approach to support for workers. The government plans to reduce furlough support in stages from July before ending it altogether on 30 September. 

The union says that with the government deciding that we must now ‘live with Covid’, proper furlough support must be retained to support employers, and the UK’s pitiful statutory sick pay allowance – £96 per week – must be addressed urgently as it is a serious disincentive to workers to isolate. Some two million workers are excluded from any protection as their earnings are simply too low to qualify.

Unite says that furlough, brought in to prevent mass unemployment as the first wave took hold, has enabled employers, such as British Airways and Nissan, to weather recent troubles as the country races to vaccinate the population in an effort to defeat the rampant Delta strain of the virus. 

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “It’s simply too soon for ministers to abandon businesses and jobs to the economic impact of the pandemic.

“If the government tells us we now must `live with Covid’, then we need the systems in place to help protect jobs as employers look ahead to continued uncertainty,” he added. “That means proper furlough support for all workers, including freelancers and others excluded, coupled with sick pay that allows workers to support themselves and their families if they are ill.

“Despite the NHS’s incredible vaccination programme, cases are again worryingly high and on the rise, so employers still need to furlough workers when outbreaks occur. 

“The country has invested billions in keeping people in work ready for recovery, but if ministers ‘pull the rug’ from under businesses too soon jobs will go and our heroic national investment will be wasted,” Turner continued.

“It’s not time to ditch the scheme we won fifteen months ago, but to reboot it.  This is not the moment for ministers to run out of ideas and imagination because these coming months will be a huge challenge for fragile businesses.

“Industries, such as aviation, automotive and hospitality, are still on the ropes, hit hard by repeated lockdowns, supply chain disruption and inconsistent government decisions, which is why we have always argued that the UK furlough scheme needs to match those of our competitor countries and be continued until at least the spring of 2022. 

“Nobody is arguing for eternal furlough, but the government has to work with employers and the trade unions to chart a new course through the pandemic,” he went on to say. “One that in the longer-term recognises short-term business and economic disruption with short-time working protections, and right now, does least damage to the economy and the livelihoods of millions of working people.

 “At the outbreak of the pandemic, three-way negotiations formulated a furlough package that kept a wage coming in for millions and staved off mass unemployment.  This same approach is needed now because the government’s determination that we live with Covid must not mean an autumn of misery and unemployment for millions.”

By Shaun Noble

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