With 45 days to go until the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to an end, the leader of Unite has written to the prime minister to urge him to act before the ‘redundancy floodgates’ pour open.
Employers are legally obliged to give workers 45 days’ notice of redundancy, meaning that today's milestone could be a very bleak day for jobs, with a miserable winter and Christmas ahead for working people.
Unite fears that without a clear and urgent sign of the government responding to the mounting calls from across the business and the political spectrum for longer-term support to save jobs, employers facing short-term struggles will issue redundancy notices.
McCluskey urged the prime minister in the letter to move swiftly to ‘put a floor’ under employers by announcing a modification of the Jobs Retention Scheme (JRS) – along with targeted assistance for sectors under stress, such as manufacturing, aviation and hospitality – like that provided by our competitor nations and even the USA.
Len McCluskey, who back in March welcomed the JRS as a ‘bold and very necessary measure’, called upon the prime minister to honour taxpayers’ historic investment, designed to avert mass unemployment, by moving swiftly to signal that a fresh iteration of the JRS is on the way.
The move comes as evidence of the scale of jobs lost during the pandemic months grows, revealing that some 700,000 jobs have been lost since March and amid fears that 400,000 more could be lost by the end of September.
Unite has launched an SOS for Jobs to give voice to members who fear the end of the JRS and the destruction that it could bring to their communities, the very areas that the prime minister has promised to ‘level up’.
Last week, the influential Treasury select committee backed Unite’s calls for continued and targeted assistance for industry as well as jobs-saving measures such as short-time working to be introduced in some sectors.
The full text of Len McCluskey’s letter to Boris Johnson is below:
Dear Prime Minister,
This week will mark 45 days until the Jobs Retention Scheme comes to an end. 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.
Many of the industries in which we are present are viable and indeed have a huge role to play in building back our economy, but they need further short-term government assistance to weather the coming months. With our competitor nations announcing the extension or modification of their jobs retention schemes, we ask that your government recognises the need for UK businesses and workers to receive similar support.
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.
Unite the union is more than willing to help work up plans for sector-specific support with your government. We represent in 19 sectors of industry and with deep links to trade bodies and employers are very well placed to assist in developing the nuanced support that should follow the full scheme.
There is little doubt that an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is critical and a subsequent sector specific scheme should follow.
I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you and the Rt Honourable Rushi Sunak MP to discuss this urgent request.
Unite General Secretary