Unions and charities call for furlough extension to protect jobs and vulnerable staff

6 Jul 2020 By Francis Churchill

Joint statement follows week in which several high street names announced thousands of headcount reductions

Unions and charities have called on the chancellor to extend the furlough scheme beyond October to protect jobs and allow high-risk individuals to continue shielding.

In a joint statement put out over the weekend, unions – including the TUC, Unite and the GMB – warned that without “bold action” from the government this week the UK faced the prospect of “mass unemployment on a scale not seen since the 1980s”.

The announcement followed a week in which thousands of job cuts were announced by large companies and high street names, including Harrods, John Lewis and Arcadia Group, which owns the brands Topshop and Miss Selfridge. Just today (6 July), coffee shop chain Pret A Manger announced plans to close 30 stores and cut 1,000 jobs.

The unions called for the job retention scheme, set to end in October, to be extended further to avoid a “lasting economic storm”.

“[We must] extend the job retention scheme beyond October for businesses [that] have a viable future​, but need longer to build back,” the statement said. “This is crucial, especially in at-risk industries like the arts, aviation, aerospace, automotive and hospitality.”

The statement coincided with a separate statement signed by hospitality and tourism bosses calling for more support from the government. According to the BBC, the letter warned that some businesses in the sector would not be able to reopen despite the recent easing of lockdown restrictions, and that necessary cost savings would likely be made by firms through them reducing headcounts.

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"Hospitality businesses operate with very high fixed costs and labour costs are the only flexible point to absorb this suppressed demand," it said. "Many parts of the late night and leisure economy, as well as activities such as events and conferencing in our hotels, have no provisional date for reopening and this is impacting confidence and undermining job security.”

The TUC has also joined a number of charities, including Age UK, Carers UK, Macmillan and Diabetes UK, in calling for the furlough scheme to be extended to protect shielding individuals, warning that many of those at high risk from coronavirus faced having to choose between their health and their jobs.

The government has already outlined plans to roll back support for shielding individuals, and has said it expects them to be back at work on 1 August.

However, a report from the TUC cautioned that shielding employees would still be at a higher risk when returning to work. It warned that of the 627,000 people in work who had been asked by the government to ‘shield’ at home, 31 per cent – the equivalent of nearly 200,000 people – were furloughed and could not work from home.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said many people who had been shielding from coronavirus would not be able to return to work on 1 August because the virus “continued to pose a threat to their lives or the lives of those they lived with.

“Tens of thousands of people risk being forced out of their jobs after 1 August if the job retention scheme is not extended and their workplaces cannot be made safe, [and] many others will be stopped from returning to work because of their caring responsibilities, like working mums without childcare,” O’Grady added.

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