Workers fear they will be made to pay the price after Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak announced changes to the job retention scheme on Tuesday.
The furlough saw the state pay 80 percent of wages, up to £2,500 a month, if workers would have been laid off because of coronavirus.
Pressure from bosses forced Sunak to back off plans to slash furlough payments to 60 percent from June. He also extended the scheme until October – but wants business to stump up money towards it.
Chris, a furloughed graphic designer, said this will “result in trumped up firings or people being laid off” so bosses don’t have to pay more. “I can’t imagine employers want to chip in,” he told Socialist Worker.
Some companies have already started giving furloughed workers notice.
Letitia, who works at the Wetherspoon pub chain, says bosses were “very reluctant” to give staff any money in the first place. “The company tried to not pay us until the government released the furlough money,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We’re paid weekly so it would have meant living off one week’s wages for four or five weeks.
“There was a really big push online and they caved after a like a day.
“I’ve never thought of my boss as someone really cares about us, but people do think of their bosses like that. It’s really pierced the veil with people thinking, ‘I’ve given ten years, one thing happens and then they treat us like this’.”
Even 80 percent means workers are still losing out. “I’ve lost about £60 a week,” explained Letitia. “I’m just about managing, but what about colleagues who have children or debt?
“I’m in a cheap house share, but the rent is still now half of my wages.”
Letitia added, “I think bosses will always try to put costs on workers by any means necessary. So many of us on furlough are already not getting our wages topped up to cover the other 20 percent.”
Workers who have been furloughed aren’t supposed to do any work.
But some feel under pressure to keep up work—while bosses simply take a huge subsidy from the state. Chris said, “I got very mixed messages and couldn’t get any clarity about what I should be doing.
“HR said don’t do any work and management didn’t know.
“I made the decision to hit work deadlines because I knew that it would be my arse on the line.
“I could be very confident that I’d be taking flack once we got back to work.”
Tory cuts to the furlough scheme are designed to get people back to work through economic hardship. Chris said, “Some of my costs have gone down— like not having to use public transport—so it’s been survivable.
“But I think in the long term it’s unsustainable for people to be on 80 percent.”
Boris Johnson’s speech last Sunday was a green light for bosses to get back to business as usual. Shortly afterwards, Chris got a WhatsApp message from management saying he should go back to work. “It said that the following people would be back from Monday 18th May,” he said.
“I emailed HR about it, said it wasn’t a very good idea and they got back to me and said they agreed.
“It’s a good thing I pushed back. I travel by train to work and it would be an unnecessary risk when I could work from home.”
Letitia said that “there is definitely a fear of not knowing if we’ll be safe when it reopens”. “The company said they are making plans on how to make us safe, but I don’t believe it,” she explained.
“We spend half our shifts saying sorry to one another because we bump into one another behind the bar.
“What about the customers? They can order on the app, but then staff still need to bring food and drink to the table.
“Do we have security on the toilets making sure people wash their hands or people wiping down the fruit machines after every use?”
Workers are already paying with their lives to keep profits flowing. Unions need to get organised against urgently any return to work and bosses’ attempts to make workers foot the bill for the coronavirus crisis.