“A step forward” – unions respond to self-employed announcement

Unions have given a guarded welcome to today’s announcement that self-employed workers could benefit for help up to £2,500 a month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government will pay self-employed people a taxable grant based on their previous earnings over the last three years, worth up to 80% of earnings, and capped at £2,500 a month.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With so many of the self-employed facing a collapse in their earnings the Chancellor is right to act. This is a welcome step forward for self-employed and freelance workers across the economy, from construction to the creative industries.

“It’s vital that support reaches workers as soon as possible. Many are already dealing with severe hardship. Unions look forward to being consulted on how this scheme is rolled out.”

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “Bectu has pushed incredibly hard for freelancers and the self-employed to have parity with employees and the scale of the chancellor’s announcement clearly sets out to achieve that.

“However, we won’t stop and there are still many details to work through including how those who have paid themselves through dividends will fit into this scheme and also the time-scale. We know that the benefits system is under intense pressure with a five week wait for payments to be made and the self-employed and freelancers should have access to the coronavirus business interruption loans made available by the government.

“We are committed to working with the Treasury to ensure as many people as possible can be covered by this scheme and sharing information across the creative industries.”

MU general secretary Horace Trubridge said: “We have been fighting very hard for adequate compensation for our members, and today’s news is extremely welcome. To every member who filled in our impact survey or wrote to their MP, I thank you. We have never stopped pressuring the government and individual case studies have been invaluable.

“With over 90% of our 32,000 members being self-employed, today’s measures are vital. We understand that implementing this system will be complex, but we now urge the government to work to get it in place as quickly as possible. Any help that the MU can give in this process will be readily offered.

“I understand that many members are struggling with financial hardship right now and to try and alleviate immediate strain the MU has set up a hardship fund. Members in genuine financial hardship can apply for the MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund for £200 to tide them over until government support is available.

“We do, however, have limited resources so the fact that the government’s financial assistance will be backdated to 1 March 2020 will be a real lifesaver for so many musicians.

“We all need music more than ever in these difficult times. I thank the government and every MP across every party who helped to ensure that musicians will now be able to survive to continue playing that music for us.”

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Self-employed and freelance workers have been waiting anxiously for weeks to learn what support the government can offer them through this pandemic and this plan is a step in the right direction and a big win for our campaigning.
“There are two priority issues now for the government on which we will be holding them to account. First, they must work with unions and business groups to make sure that nobody who needs support is denied it because of the way they are contracted or due to arbitrary thresholds.
“Second, to find a mechanism for getting this money to people as quickly as possible so that nobody faces hardship or has to resort to drastic measures. This is a big step for government and I appreciate how challenging it is, we are ready to work at pace with government to get this support to people and make sure nobody is left behind.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “We are pleased to note the government’s intention to give the self-employed the same economic security during these worrying times as the directly employed. We look forward to seeing the details so that we can examine this in terms of our self-employed members, from cabbies to carers.

“But by far the most effective way to give many of these workers the economic security that they need is to end the abusive status that is bogus self-employment. Ministers can do that at the stroke of a pen, declaring these workers employees and so bringing them into the furlough scheme; where they can access up to 80 per cent of their incomes. The government could do this easily, by statutory instrument possibly, and I am sure would attract cross-party support for doing so.

“Thousands of construction workers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers are not actually self-employed but have been told to declare themselves so by their ’employers’. These workers and millions of others teeter on the edge of financial collapse. They desperately needed to hear today that a simple, straightforward and speedy to access package of support is heading their way.

“Self-employed workers must have no delay in receiving funds – this will force them to conclude that they have to still go to work, putting themselves and others at risk. 

“The fact that cash will not get to those workers who do qualify for assistance until June is alarming. The promise of money in weeks to come doesn’t pay the rent or put food on the table in April and May.

“We also need the chancellor to do more to compel employers to access the jobs retention scheme. This scheme is a radical departure for this country, but it is in danger of not delivering on its promise because employers will not use it, opting instead to send workers home to live off poverty sick pay.  

“Unite has said that it will pull every lever available to compel employers to use the scheme, including legal action if needs be. But government urgently needs to set out to business why using the scheme is the most effective and responsible way of playing their part to avert collective economic disaster.”

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “Millions of self-employed workers will sleep easier tonight. Food, rent, utilities aren’t cheaper if you’re self-employed and for many work has dried up, so it’s right and welcome that support will now be put in place.

“When this is all over we will need to ask how many workers classed as ‘self-employed’ genuinely fall into that category – the explosion of fake self-employment has undoubtedly made this much more difficult.GMB stands ready to work through the detail with government so people get the clarity and support they need.

“Next the government should take action on businesses who are not providing essential services but refuse to do the responsible thing and use government support to close their doors – or provide adequate protections to keep their workers safe.”

Equity general secretary Christine Payne said: “We welcome the Government’s recognition that more needs to be done to support the self-employed workforce. We look forward to offering our advice and assistance as the details of this scheme are worked out and hope that it can be brought online quicker than is anticipated.

“Our priority going forward will be to ensure that as many members as possible can access the scheme, including those whose profits have been reduced by the legitimate expenses incurred in the course of their work. We will also endeavour to work with government to ensure that accessible guidance on the scheme is made available to Equity members and we will continue to work hard for our members contracted across live and recorded media, including those who are covered by the job retention scheme.”

Equity president Maureen Beattie said: “The last two weeks have been incredibly difficult for Equity members – the shutdown of their workplaces and the distress of wondering how they will pay their bills with no prospect of alternative employment, while wondering if there will be an industry for them to go back to when this crisis is over, has brought unprecedented levels of stress to an already beleaguered workforce.

“I would like to pay tribute to all the campaigning efforts of our members since last Friday as we sought to secure parity for them with those whose workplaces are eligible for the job retention scheme. At first glance, the Chancellor’s revised package for self-employed workers appears to give us a fighting chance of securing the future of our industry and the people who work in it, but there are concerns still and we will continue to work together – staff and activists alike – to get the best possible deal we can for our members.”

BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “It would be outrageously unfair if employees suffering huge pay cuts cannot access the same kind of support as the self-employed who will be able to continue to earn and get a grant of up to 80% of their income even where they have only had small reductions in their income.

“Perhaps today’s announcement from the Chancellor on support for the self-employed signals a change of approach for employees too. We hope so. In any case, industries and workers need a lot more clarity from the government on both of these schemes.

“The self-employed should absolutely be getting support from government, but there is no reason to have such a disparity in approach. We hope the government will think again, otherwise it is clear something has gone terribly wrong inside the Treasury.”

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