Workers fear “mass unemployment” and “starving” if the Tories slash the Job Retention Scheme.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants to wind down the furlough scheme to force up to six million people back to work before it’s safe. It sees the state cover 80 percent of wages, up to £2,500 a month, if workers would have been sacked because of the coronavirus crisis.
Options being discussed with bosses include slashing the subsidy to 60 percent of wages or making workers go in part time.
Jasmine, a customer service worker in a call centre, said it’s causing “anxiety day to day”. “I don’t understand the logic of ‘weaning us off’ the scheme,” she told Socialist Worker. “I still need the same amount of money in July.
“It’s really worrying because we’re only getting paid 80 percent of our wage anyway,.
“My partner’s hours have been cut back instead of him being furloughed. It covers the rent but it’s ridiculously expensive in London—almost one person’s wage—and we still have to pay council tax.
“So that’s like another £164 on top of our rent.”
When Jasmine and her partner asked for a rent reduction, the landlord said “we could pay him back in six months’ time”.
Jasmine says it’s already “really scary”, because her contract only runs till the end of June and they’re already slashing budgets. “There’ll be double the present leverl of unemployment and Universal Credit just isn’t enough,” she said.
“People will start thinking, should I stay at home with no money, or go to work and risk catching the virus?”
Almost two million people have applied for the Universal Credit benefit since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Ministers say this has “stabilised” at 20,000 to 25,000 claims per day, double the figure before.
Hundreds of thousands more workers now face the prospect of unemployment and a life of poverty on grossly inadequate benefits.
I do worry that we’ll be chased back to work prematurely
Julia, a trainer in London who was furloughed, has already been given two months notice. “The company doesn’t think there will be any work for at least six months and that’s a very optimistic view,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I’ve just limped past two years and I will get redundancy. But I work in an industry that has been decimated by the pandemic and lockdown, and will be one trainer out of one million on the market.
“Any job will have four or five times the normal amount of applicants chasing it. It’s really difficult to see a way out of this—there’s so much unknown.”
Some workers say bosses haven’t bothered to furlough fixed-term contract staff because it still means administrative costs. Others make applying for furlough a long, bureaucratic process.
Jeremy, a fixed term contracts call centre worker at a logistics company, doesn’t even know if he has been furloughed. “It’s not very easy to get paid,” he told Socialist Worker. “We were furloughed from 31 March and told not to come in.
“On 7 April I got a letter from the employer saying that in order to qualify you’ve got to fill out our form and return it by 9 April. I sent it off recorded delivery on 8 April. Then on 1 May, I received a letter from the employer saying they hadn’t got it—but it said return by 20 April.”
This letter from Wincanton bosses warns, “If you do not agree to this arrangement, the alternative may include the company having to consider redundancies.”
“I’ve made copious calls to the employer,” he explained, “but the person in the HR department had no idea how the furlough scheme works.”
Jeremy received £815 into his bank account on 20 April. His rate of pay is £8.21 hour for a 40 hour week, meaning 80 percent of his monthly wage would be £1,138. This makes it nearer to 57 percent of his usual wage.
And because payroll is outsourced to another company, it’s difficult to get an itemised slip to see how he’s been paid. Jeremy said, “I don’t know if I’ll have a job at the end of it. Trying to get anything out of an employer is difficult—you’re kept in the dark and have to manage as best you can.
“I do worry that we’ll be chased back to work prematurely.
“They couch it in terms of the economy, but what they mean is profits and in the end of the day the profits will come before us.”
Jasmine added, “We need a full furlough to continue and workers should get it directly—we shouldn’t have to go through our employer. We need to stop rent, council tax and utilities bills—if they have the power to have a mortgage holiday then that’s possible for us.”
Some bosses have voiced opposition to the Tory plans, but they only want a softer exit. Unions have to fight against the unsafe return to work—and bosses’ attempts to make workers pay the price for coronavirus.