Unions respond to the extension of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Unions respond to the extension of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

- in TUC, Unite, USDAW
Rishi Sunak MP

Trade unions have responded to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement today of the government’s extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today confirmed that the furlough scheme will be extended to run until the end of March, rather than just for November as previously announced.

Mr Sunak said the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will continue to pay 80% of a worker’s wage up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. He told the Commons today that the government will review the policy in January.

The chancellor advised that the extension to the furlough scheme is intended to give businesses a sense of “security through the winter”, saying the security provided by the extension “will protect millions of jobs”.

The furlough scheme is designed to subsidise the wages of workers who cannot do their jobs because of coronavirus, either because their workplace has had to close or because there is no longer enough work for them.

As part of the revised scheme, anyone made redundant after 23 September can be rehired and put back on furlough.

Unions have been quick to respond to Mr Sunak’s announcement, with many critical of the government’s timing and lack of a clear long term plan.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the extension was “welcome” but criticised the government for not acting quick enough to prevent job losses. He said: “Today’s extension of the job retention scheme until March 2021 is of course welcome but entirely predictable. The government was always going to have to get real because workers simply cannot be forced into further crisis-caused lockdowns without financial support.

“Thousands of UK jobs have been lost in the past 24 hours alone. 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.

“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.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, meanwhile, questioned whether the revised scheme goes far enough to address the “injustices” of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and called for more support for low-paid workers.

He said: “It is crucial that low-paid workers do not pay the price of fighting this appalling pandemic. Today the Chancellor did not address the injustices in the Job Retention Scheme, although the extension does provide some certainty for businesses and job security for workers. This is good news and should have been done sooner. But is it enough?

“Furloughed workers struggling to make ends meet face the prospect of only 80% of the statutory minimum wage for the hours they usually work. Their wages should be protected and topped up to at least the National Living Wage for the normal hours they work. With many employers not topping up wages, around two million workers were paid less than the legal minimum wage last April.

“It cannot be right that our lowest paid are plunged into poverty when we should all be working together to overcome this crisis. There also needs to be reform of Statutory Sick Pay to ensure that low-paid workers can afford to self-isolate or take time off when they are ill. This has to be a crucial part of limiting the spread of the virus. Also, there needs to be significant reform of Universal Credit and confirmation that there will not be a £20 per week cut to income in April.

“While we have understood the extraordinary measures the government has had to take, we are concerned by their overall response. Too often the government has chased the pandemic, rather than get ahead of it. The early closure of furlough and the last-minute extension caused a great deal of uncertainty for business and we have no doubt that redundancy decisions were made because of this chaos. There needs to be a better-planned approach, an openness to work collectively and an understanding that we are all in this together, so nobody should be left behind.”

The TUC took to Twitter to respond, saying the extension is a “positive step” but highlighting the areas the government needs to do more on as we enter a second lockdown:

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