In Brief

Unite: extend furlough scheme now or ‘redundancy floodgates will open’

Union calls for immediate government action to save workers and business from ‘cliff edge’

Union leader Len McCluskey has requested an emergency meeting with Boris Johnson to plead the case for extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in order to prevent the “redundancy floodgates” from opening.

Today marks 45 days until the furlough scheme comes to an end - “the same amount of time that employers must give for notice of redundancy”, says the BBC

In a letter to the prime minister, Unite boss McCluskey (pictured above) warns that the milestone could be a “very bleak” day for UK jobs, with a “miserable winter and Christmas” looming for workers.

‘Comprehensive plan is vital’

Data released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that a total of 695,000 payroll jobs were lost in the first five months of the pandemic, with the total number of people out of work standing at 1.4 million.

McCluskey is calling on Johnson to minimise further redundancies by moving swiftly to “put a floor” under employers through the modification of the furlough scheme, currently due to end on 31 October. The union is also urging the government to provide targeted assistance for sectors such as manufacturing, aviation and hospitality. 

In his letter to the PM, McCluskey writes: “With no sign yet of your government moving to extend or modify the scheme, there is the very real fear that this landmark will open the floodgates for redundancy notices as employers seek to comply with the 45 days’ notice period. 

“I am therefore writing to you today to ask that you move urgently to signal that your government will act to save businesses and workers from this cliff edge. 

“Such a move would put a floor under struggling employers who are working hard to stabilise in the face of immense challenges, helping them save jobs, but it will also respect and repay the historic investment made by taxpayers and our country to avert widespread unemployment.

“Winter and Christmas are fast approaching and the recent rise in the virus infection rate is very concerning, as your recent ‘rule of six’ ruling underscores, but it also indicates that any sense of ‘normal’ consumer behaviour and economic activity will not return for some time. 

“It is therefore vital that the coronavirus job retention scheme is extended and that there is a comprehensive plan drawn up for sector specific support.” 

McCluskey adds that he “would welcome an opportunity to meet with you and [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak to discuss this urgent request” - a request that “will be seen as a pragmatic move from a union leader caricatured as left-wing firebrand ‘Red Len’”, says Sky News.

Sunak: new ways to protect jobs is ‘priority’

The Treasury Select Committee said last week that the government should consider a targeted extension of the furlough scheme, under which the government has helped pay the wages of a total of around ten million workers. But despite the recommendation, Sunak said yesterday that his “priority” was to find new ways to protect jobs

The chancellor told the BBC: “I wouldn’t be being honest with people if I pretended that it was always going to be possible for people to return to the job that they had. Now in terms of helping those people, I don’t think the right thing to do is to endlessly extend furlough. 

“People don’t want to be at home, they want to be in work, and that’s why our plan for jobs is so important, because it helps provide people with new opportunities, going forward.”

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