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This cannot be the end for Covid support

This cannot be the end for Covid support

The government has belatedly taken heed of trade union pressure for a short-time working scheme to support workers during the Covid-19 pandemic with the launch of the Job Support Scheme.

With the end of the furlough scheme looming at the end of October there was the alarming prospect of workers in otherwise viable businesses and organisations losing their jobs.

This would have brought hardship to many families and deprived the firms they worked for of valuable skills and experience.

Now following the lead of countries like France and Germany, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has unveiled a programme that will top up the wages of workers whose firms can’t employ them on their full hours.

Mirroring the TUC’s proposals, the Job Support Scheme isn’t targeted at particular sectors, though large companies using it will have to show that their turnover has been hit.

One carrot for employers is that they will still qualify for the £1,000 job retention bonus the government has promised firms that retain previously furloughed staff.

But companies using the scheme will not be able to pay dividends and cannot put the workers concerned on redundancy notice.

The scheme will ensure workers receive 77 per cent of their full-time wages, although the TUC had pushed for better support, particularly for those on the lowest wages.

There is also a scaled-back scheme for self-employed workers.

But the programmes, which will stay in place for six months from November, should be just the first step in a wider package of support that delivers job creation in the green economy and public sector, and a real social safety net.

The current Job Retention Scheme, which gives workers on furlough 80 per cent of wages, closes at the end of October, having had the level of government support reduced.

Figures released today show that at the beginning of September, 12 per cent of workers were still on furlough (either fully or partially).

This included four in ten arts and entertainment workers and three in ten of those working in accommodation and food.

To qualify for support under the new scheme, workers must undertake at least 33 per cent of their normal working hours.

For the hours they are not working, they will receive 33 per cent of their pay from the government and 33 per cent from their employer.

Payments will be calculated based on the worker’s usual salary, capped at £697.92 a month. This mirrors the salary cap within the current furlough scheme.

Large firms accessing the scheme will have to show that their turnover has been affected by the pandemic.

But this cannot be the end of government action.

Unfortunately, unlike the TUC’s proposals, under the Job Support Scheme there is no obligation on employers to offer training opportunities to those on short hours. 

To avoid wasting those unworked hours, ministers should work with unions and business to offer high-quality retraining so that workers are better prepared for future opportunities.

A National Recovery Council should now be convened, bringing together government, business and unions to plan for an economy that delivers fair rewards for key workers and good new jobs in green industry.

  • Tim Sharp is Senior Employment Rights Officer at the TUC

PHOTO: Pippa Fowles / No10 Downing Street