'Veering on the irresponsible'

Unite GS Len McCluskey slams PM for silence on furlough scheme as new restrictions announced

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Unite has reiterated its call for the government to urgently extend and modify the furlough scheme after prime minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions for England amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

The new measures announced include a requirement for pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues to be closed by 10pm, while office workers who are able to work from home are again being asked to do so.

Hospitality workers will now be required to wear masks at work, as will customers whenever they are not seated at a table for food and drink. All hospitality settings will be table service only.

The ‘rule of six’, where no more than six people can gather in or out of doors, will be more strictly enforced in England. Weddings will be capped at 15 people.

Despite the increase in restrictions, the government again failed to offer any additional support for workers now under growing threat of redundancy after the furlough scheme is slated to end on October 31.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey lambasted the government for failing to extend the scheme and offer sector-specific support for the worst-hit sectors, after it became clear today that the pandemic was far from over and the UK is in the midst of a second wave of the coronavirus.  

Commenting, McCluskey said, “It is now veering on the irresponsible for the government to remain silent and stubborn on the prospect of assistance for jobs and the economy. 

 “The prime minister was also flat out wrong about the UK government doing more to protect jobs than its opposite numbers in France and Germany,” he added. “Weeks ago, those governments extended their jobs protection programmes, giving their workers relief from the fear of redundancy. Disgracefully, this government has given no such security to the workers of the UK.

 “Boris Johnson is looking increasingly isolated on this vital issue,” McCluskey continued. “Calls for action are raining down on him from all parties and from right across industry. When the governor of the Bank of England and the Treasury select committee both call for action to protect jobs, it is the duty of the government to act.

 “The prime minister has made it clear to the country that new restrictions on our lives are with us until next spring. These measures must surely then be accompanied by the support that sectors of the economy facing ruin are crying out for.

 “It must now extend the jobs retention scheme and financial support, targeting sectors such as aerospace, aviation and hospitality.”

The prime minister’s statement comes as Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said he believed the government should ‘rethink’ its stance on ending the furlough scheme.

Addressing a British Chambers of Commerce webinar, Bailey said on Tuesday (September 22), “We are living in a fast-evolving world, certainly this week, so it would be completely inappropriate for me to tie the Chancellor’s hands. It is a very difficult situation we are in at the moment.

“What I would just reiterate is … the reason I said I think it was sensible not to continue the current scheme was precisely the point that we’ve moved from a world of generalised employment protection to rather more specifically focused areas.”

“I think it is therefore sensible to stop and rethink the approach going forward,” he added.

Bailey’s comments signal a U-turn from the Bank of England, whose chief economist argued against extending the furlough scheme only two weeks ago. The apparent change of heart demonstrates how serious the problem of massive looming unemployment has become as the second wave of the pandemic begins.

Responding to the Bank of England governor’s latest comments, McCluskey said, “When the Bank of England sides with working people in the fight to save jobs, then the government must surely listen.

“The clock is ticking down and with every hour that goes by without a clear message from the chancellor that help is on its way, the redundancy cliff edge draws ever closer,” he added.

“Workers in Germany, Spain and France can rest easy in their beds at night knowing that their governments have moved swiftly to put a floor under their jobs.  All we ask is for Boris Johnson’s government to provide the same security for UK workers, and to do so fast.

“Don’t abandon Britain’s workers prime minister because you will never be forgiven if you do.”

By Hajera Blagg

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