The government is facing pressure from unions and business leaders to bring back the furlough scheme. It comes after the announcement of Plan B measures at Downing Street last night.

Business leaders and unions warned if companies and their workers did not get help in the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, it could damage the progress made since pandemic restrictions were eased.  

 

‘Too many’ industries hit ahead of festive season

Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Ministers must reassure workers in hard-hit sectors like hospitality, leisure and travel that their livelihoods are secure.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Requiring people to work from home over the busy Christmas period will hit jobs – unless ministers bring back furlough. Cleaners, receptionists, conference and banqueting staff and hospitality and retail workers will be short of work if people don’t come into offices,” she said.

This was echoed by the general secretary of the transport union TSSA, Manuel Cortes. He said: “The government must bring back the furlough job retention scheme to ensure no one loses their jobs as a result of the new restrictions.”

Hospitality industry leaders warned that if office staff stayed home it would affect footfall on high street shops and cafes. They said they had already seen a drop in business due to the government’s handling of the situation.

Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the CBI, said the fresh restrictions were a “big setback for businesses” especially during the Christmas season. He said: “It will be vital that the impact of these restrictions is closely monitored, and that the government is ready with targeted support as required.” 

 

Schools need a Plan B too

The National Education Union is among those criticising the government’s lack of measures, and has put out its own Plan B for schools. It also wants the government to allow staff to book vaccines and boosters during working hours without loss of pay. 

Kevin Courtney, the Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: “More than 200,000 pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons on 25 November and since then infection rates among school-age children have risen further. 

It also wants a campaign to encourage twice weekly testing for all staff and pupils to keep both safe. It says the government should also issue higher-grade medical masks for at-risk staff and pupils.

Mr Courtney said Boris Johnson must “act now to minimise the disruption of education”. 

He added: “We are disappointed that in his announcement, the Prime Minister has made no mention of schools, given that cases are rising so fast and this is leading to so much disruption of education.”

Last year, parents working from home struggled with school-going children also at home, prompting hundreds of parenting sites to put out messages of support and advice.