Unite’s Howard Beckett lead the reactions of trade unions to the Chancellor’s announcement that the government will pay 80% of workers’ wages in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday night the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – the Government’s plan to pay 80% of ‘furloughed’ workers’ wages as the country self-isolates to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the unprecedented state intervention, Mr Sunak said:
Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – that’s just above the median income.”
To all those at home, right now anxious about the days ahead, I say you will not face this alone.
Other measures announced by the Chancellor last week included a deferral of VAT payments due over the coming weeks until late June and a loan scheme for businesses affected by coronavirus, which will be interest-free for twelve months. Self-assessment tax returns have also been deferred until January 2021.
Appealing directly to the UK’s bosses, Mr Sunak said:
The Government is doing its best to stand behind you and I’m asking you to do your best to stand behind our workers.
We want to look back on this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us.
We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency.
We want to look back on this time and remember how in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together. It’s on all of us.
Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett welcomed the measures announced by the Chancellor, calling them “a slap in the face to those employers who wanted to use this crisis to attack employees’ terms and conditions.”
However Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect Union, said that the new measures came too late for workers who had already been laid off, before highlighting the plight of the UK’s 5 million or so self-employed workers.
Mr Clancy said:
There is still no real protection for freelance, self-employed and contract workers who seem not to be covered by the income protection scheme and are being left to struggle through the inadequate benefits system.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called the Chancellor’s announcement a “breakthrough” and said:
The Chancellor has shown real leadership. We’re glad he has listened to unions and taken vital steps to support working families.
Large-scale wage subsidies are the best way to boost household finances and keep businesses running, and they’ll help our economy bounce back after this crisis.
Employers across the economy can now be confident that they will be able to pay their wage bills. They must urgently reassure their staff that their jobs and livelihoods are safe.
However, Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said the measures did not go far enough to protect the more vulnerable workers. He said:
There are many workers, particularly in retail, who are contracted for fairly few hours each week, but regularly work many more to make a weekly wage they can live on.
These short-hours contract workers rely on this regular additional money, so for their income to be drastically reduced to 80 per cent of contract pay will put them in real hardship.