'Time to stop government's economic rollercoaster'

Unite calls for government action as more than 300,000 redundancies registered in last three months

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s extension of the furlough scheme has come too late for a massive number of people who are now out of work, as the latest figures show more than 300,000 redundancies were made in the last three months alone.

Between July and September, a total of 314,000 redundancies were registered according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the highest on record, an increase of 181,000 job losses on the previous quarter.

The number of redundancies now exceeds even those made at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, with more than three quarters of a million people made redundant since March.

Unemployment has jumped to nearly 5 per cent in the last quarter – the highest in the last four years – totaling 1.67m people. The Bank of England predicts that unemployment will soar to nearly 8 per cent by the middle of next year.

It is expected that job losses will only continue to mount in the months to come amid a second national lockdown as companies’ cashflow runs dry and far too many people, such as the self-employed, fall through the cracks of government support.

Early figures from the HMRC show that in October alone – what was initially supposed to be the last month of the furlough scheme before the chancellor’s eleventh hour U-turn on October 31 – 33,000 people fell off company pay rolls.

Even in the last week, several major companies have announced redundancies, first with Lloyds Banking Group last week saying it would cut more than a 1,000 jobs, then supermarket retailer Sainsbury’s announcing an astonishing 3,500 job losses. Caterpillar also last week announced it would be cutting 700 jobs from its Northern Ireland operations.

On Tuesday (November 10) it was announced that 200 jobs would be lost at the Petroineos refinery based in Grangemouth.

Commenting on the news, Unite industrial officer Sally Smart said, “Unite is deeply concerned that Petroineos plans to mothball two of its units based at the Grangemouth refinery, which could lead to the loss of 200 highly-skilled jobs. We are acutely aware of the very challenging market conditions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in a lower demand of fuels but there is now a vaccine within grasp which could significantly effect demand in the coming months.”

“We firmly believe the proposal is premature and that Petroineos should instead be discussing with us how to effectively use the extension in the UK Government’s furlough scheme to give us more time to explore every option.”

Unite has long warned that without swift government action and further support for sectors that have been decimated by the coronavirus crisis such as aviation, hospitality, aerospace and others, a relentless tsunami of job losses will only continue.

Last week, as the UK entered its second national lockdown, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey urged the government to come up with a more coherent plan to save jobs and protect incomes.

“Thousands of UK jobs have been lost in the past 24 hours alone,” he said. “Who knows how many of these jobs and the many others that have previously been lost could have been saved, if the prime minister and chancellor had followed the path of France and Germany and announced financial investment and jobs security packages well ahead of further lockdowns.

“As this recession worsens and millions are pushed to the financial cliff-edge, people need more than short-term sticking plasters reluctantly and retrospectively applied over deepening economic wounds,” McCluskey added.

“Workers, families and communities are facing ruin yet the absence of longer-term, strategic support for UK employers and households is making desperate matters worse, and is a gift to our competitors who will recover faster and stronger.

“We need a government with a plan to protect health, jobs and incomes, to get us through these frightening times and out the other side, and we need it yesterday.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady also called for government action as she responded to the latest ONS data on redundancies.

“It‘s time to stop the government’s economic rollercoaster. Every day more job losses are announced – and every one is a tragedy for a family,” she said.

“Hard-hit sectors like the arts, hospitality and aviation are really struggling. These industries have a long-term future – but ministers must step in and deliver targeted support to help them get through the months ahead.

“People who have lost their jobs must get the support they need to make ends meet. We need an urgent boost to universal credit or many risk being plunged into poverty.”

O’Grady also called on the government to devise a plan to create jobs for the future, citing TUC research which found that 1.2m jobs could be created in green energy and infrastructure within the next two years.

O’Grady’s comments on green jobs come just as the Labour party launched this week (November 9) a green economic recovery plan ahead of the government’s comprehensive spending review later this month.

As part of the plan, Labour has challenged the government to help support the creation of 400,000 jobs that will tackle both the coronavirus jobs crisis and the climate emergency. The plan would involve the government putting forward £30bn over the next 18 months in planned capital investment and setting aside dedicated funds for low-carbon industries.

Unite welcomed Labour’s strategy and urged the government to adopt it to tackle a jobs crisis that is only set to get worse.

“Labour’s plans are not only welcome and based on discussions with industry and trade unions, but lay out a strategy for investing our way to recovery; creating thousands of new jobs, upskilling, retraining and expanding our skills base and transitioning our economy to meet the challenges of the climate emergency,” said Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner.

“Unite has been working with Labour for a long time to develop a joined-up, integrated comprehensive strategy to green our economy and clean our towns and cities, while creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities to truly level up our regions,” he added.

“A gauntlet has been laid down tonight and the government challenged to deliver on its rhetoric and demonstrate what a proactive, interventionist government, willing to invest in people, infrastructure and business, can deliver by bringing working people, business and communities to the table,” Turner went on to say.

“While our competitor nations such as France and Germany have invested billions in projects to deliver a low carbon economy, successive Tory governments have coughed up pennies. With the challenge now made, it’s over to you, prime minister. I’ll be waiting, alongside many in industry, by the phone for a call.”

By Hajera Blagg

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