Unite warns furlough changes must not lead to jobs tsunami this summer

Responding to speculation that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will use a statement next week to detail changes to the job retention scheme, the UK’s leading manufacturing union, Unite, urged the government to proceed with maximum care in order to avert a tsunami of lay-offs this summer.

Among the mooted changes, expected to be rolled out from August 1, is that employers will be responsible for a contribution of up to 25 percent of the scheme’s guaranteed pay. Unite is concerned that this could trigger some employers to simply sack workers, which is why the union is calling for flexible working patterns and a jobs creation programme to be introduced alongside furlough changes.

Commenting today (Saturday 23 May) Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said: “Changes to the furlough scheme must be managed in such a way so as not to cause panic among employers and workers. 

“For some a loosening of lockdown could see a return to near normal, with workers returning full time.  For many others though, that will not be the case and on-going support will be needed.  Alongside continued financial support there will also need to be short-time working, job sharing and a regular rotation of the workforce to support social distancing and share the workload until demand is re-established and hours can be increased for all. 

“We have argued for such flexibilities in the job retention scheme since its introduction.  We can guarantee that they will be welcomed by industry and workers alike so should be introduced without any delay.

“Our main fear though is that introducing an employer contribution to the JRS before the economy has re-opened and confidence has been restored will lead to a tsunami of job losses over the coming weeks.  

“While the worst employers will opportunistically sack workers and attack terms and conditions of employment, for the vast majority of good employers where demand has crashed and cash flow is a serious and on-going concern, such a change now will leave them with few choices.  

“In discussions with Treasury officials we are examining a variety of alternatives open to the chancellor, including lowering the monthly cap (currently £2500 a month) and directing the money to needy workers as an alternative to the introduction of an employer contribution.  

“The best way for the chancellor to address his concerns however, is to get the economy open and safely operating at every level, putting millions currently furloughed back to work.

“Unite is calling for a National Council for Recovery, a national alliance of political and industrial leaders to develop, plan and deliver proposals to support the nation’s recovery and renewal in the immediate and longer-term.  

“There is a consensus across business and the trades unions that we can build our way through this in order the avert the worst of outcomes, but we really need government to be a full partner in this process.”

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