Unions give mixed response to Chancellor’s wage support measures

Unions have given mixed responses to the Chancellor’s economic intervention.

For while most unions have welcomed the unprecedented move for the government to cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month, others have expressed concern about what it means to self-employed workers.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is the package of measures that trade unions like Unite have been pressing for as the most effective way to stave off mass hardship and the conditions for a depression.

“We recognise that these are huge decisions for any government, and especially for a Conservative government, but they have listened to the calls for action and have acted appropriately. Rishi Sunak’s wage support measures are a historic first for this country, but are bold and very much necessary.

“The key to any wage support programme is that it needs to be simple, straightforward and above all fast. This is the only way to put money into the pockets of the millions who see their livelihoods hanging by a thread.

“This will definitely be some relief amid all the fear in households across the UK this evening. Never before has the country faced a crisis of this nature. People who were only days ago in secure work are now worried sick about putting food on the table in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Chancellor has done the right thing and we look forward to working further with him in the coming days to get this money into the hands of those most in need.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “People concerned about their jobs and livelihoods will feel hugely reassured today that the Chancellor has acted swiftly. The whole country is understandably anxious about the spread of the virus, being unable to see their loved ones or buy the food they need in the shops.

“Now at least the fear of being laid off and having no income shouldn’t be one of them. UNISON will continue to work with employers and businesses providing our public services to make sure the money gets to people as a matter of urgency.”

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “We’re not natural bedfellows with a Conservative Chancellor, but in a time of unprecedented national crisis it’s important we work together for the good of workers and the economy.

“This package of support will help. Securing jobs through government underwriting of wages is hugely welcome, and that’s what we’ve been calling for action on.

“We will be pushing hard for all those employers that can afford it, to pay an extra 20% to secure the incomes of their employees. This gives business and workers enhanced security and will help us recover in the long term.

“There is still a lot to do, there are still sectors and issues we need to address – not least availability of protection equipment for frontline workers and protection for the self-employed – and we will continue to stay in close contact with government as the situation develops, we’ll continue to fight for ever worker to be supported in this crisis.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “There are many workers, particularly in retail, who are contracted for fairly few hours each week, but regularly work many more to make a weekly wage they can live on. These short-hours contract workers rely on this regular additional money, so for their income to be drastically reduced to 80% of contract pay will put them in real hardship.

“While we welcome the government’s substantial intervention, we want to hear that they understand the problems short-hours workers face and confirm that the assistance does apply to average income in the same way that holiday pay does. We also still need significant improvements on Statutory Sick Pay.

“We also urge employers to stand by their staff, keep them employed and ensure that they and their families are not plunged into poverty. The very fabric of our society relies on workers and employers pulling together and looking after each other as we deal with the coronavirus emergency.”

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “The government has finally acted to secure incomes during the pandemic and we welcome the steps they have taken on universal credit, tax delays and income protection for employees.

“However this is far from the ‘whatever it takes’ approach the Chancellor promised and his plan still contains gaping holes which could sink many family finances and ultimately the economy.

“This is too late for many of our members from flight engineers to cinema staff who have already been let go. The Chancellor must make it clear that these workers should be rehired with their incomes secured by government for the duration of the crisis. They should not pay the price of the government dragging its feet.

“There is still no real protection for freelance, self-employed and contract workers who seem not to be covered by the income protection scheme and are being left to struggle through the inadequate benefits system .

“Nobody should have to endure this crisis without support. Prospect will continue to fight hard for a truly comprehensive approach that covers all workers.”

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “The Chancellor’s support package for workers will come as a devastating blow to freelance and self-employed workers who needed much more support than they are being given.

“These workers are looking to the Chancellor in desperation for a vital lifeline and he has badly let them down, despite his grand promise to do ‘whatever it takes’.

“It is clear the Chancellor simply doesn’t understand the hardship these workers are in- telling them to simply claim universal credit while other workers have their incomes protected is cruel and unfair.

“The delay in the self-assessment tax deadline is something Bectu had been campaigning for and we are pleased the Chancellor has listened to us and our members on this but it really is the least he could have done.

“He must urgently revise his income support plan to include these workers and not force them onto the welfare system and we will be making urgent representations to government to make sure all our members are protected during this crisis.”

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