Momentum is growing across the political spectrum for the government to row back on its intention to cease the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) from 1 November and move to safeguard industry and business as the pandemic continues to buffet the UK economy.
Unite was commenting as the influential Commons Treasury select committee called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to ‘carefully consider’ targeted extensions to the JRS once the current scheme ends next month.
Unite has repeatedly called on prime minister Boris Johnson to think again on a focused sector level extension of the JRS alongside focused industry support to avoid a tidal wave of job losses engulfing UK manufacturing this autumn as employers lose confidence with demand still sluggish.
The union has launched an SOS for Jobs campaign, backed by MPs, to press the prime minister to support UK manufacturing. Unite has highlighted the fact that the UK’s main European competitors, France and Germany, are extending their support schemes for up to two years, while the UK will end its JRS after only eight months.
Unite has also asked ministers to introduce a UK-version of Germany’s Kurzarbeit scheme which promotes short-term working and the up-skilling of workers during downtime and has been an alternative to lay-off or dismissal during economic downturns across Germany for over a hundred years.
Unite Assistant General Secretary for Manufacturing, Steve Turner, said: “The Treasury select committee report reinforces what Unite has been saying for some time – that a more focused, strategic second phase of the Job Retention Scheme should continue after October - supporting those sectors, like manufacturing, most adversely affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers could face a desperate future unless the prime minister and chancellor move swiftly to modify the JRS.
“Surely it is far better to invest in jobs now than allowing unemployment to reach levels not seen since the 1930s, and inevitably felt hardest in the least wealthy towns and cities.
“Our main European economic competitors France and Germany have shown no hesitation in adopting protection schemes for up to the next two years – giving them a competitive advantage in the fight for longer-term global investment in both innovation and manufacturing capabilities.
“Corporations are inevitably attracted to the stable economic conditions these countries offer in comparison to the damaging uncertainty that our government is causing by sitting on the sidelines.
“Ministers also need to show some political imagination and display a sense of urgency because our great manufacturing sector, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs right across the economy, is in deadly danger.
"UK manufacturing is vital to our economic recovery. It will power the jobs of tomorrow and keep communities strong in those parts of the country that the prime minister has pledged to ‘level up'. But without urgent action by the government, these communities will suffer terribly as the gates close on the businesses that sit at their heart.
“What the Tory-dominated Treasury select committee has identified is that there is a growing momentum across the political spectrum for the JRS to be continued in a targeted fashion to tackle the economic and social fall-out from this global pandemic.
"We sincerely hope that they are listening in numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street and getting ready to act because time is running out."
A recent poll for Unite confirmed that one in two voters back the extension of the JRS, rising to 60 per cent among the 18-54 age group.