The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has urged the Government to introduce a short-time working scheme in order to protect workers through periods of future economic changes. 

Urging the Government “not to throw away its good work” linked to the furlough scheme, the union body has called for the scheme to be built upon in the form of a short-time working scheme.

This, it argues, will ensure the labour market becomes more resilient in times of change and crisis.

This scheme would allows firms experiencing the impacts of economic difficulties to temporarily reduce the hours worked while providing staff with income support from the Government – operating very similarly to the current furlough scheme.

The TUC has stated the working scheme could reduce the risk of workers losing their jobs in times of crisis as well as protecting workers’ incomes.

Furthermore, it suggests the working scheme could help with diversity and inclusion by preventing widening inequalities. This is through protecting people most likely to lose their jobs during difficult financial periods including women, people with disabilities and BME staff.

It also highlights key benefits this could have for the Government including protecting against long-term unemployment and allowing for a faster economic recovery.

The economic impact of COVID-19 is estimated to have ramped up Government spending to £340 billion across 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.

It also claims this will produce significant savings on redundancy, training and hiring costs for employers as it allows firms to retain skilled workers.

This call for action from the TUC comes after seeing seeing the response of other countries which were able to respond more quickly to the impact of the pandemic, with 23 countries already having short-time working schemes prior to COVID-19.

The TUC has also predicted that there will be similar threats and crises in the future including climate change and the transition to net zero.

Regarding conditions of the scheme, the union body states workers should continue to receive at least 80 per cent of their wages for any time on the scheme, with a guarantee that no-one will fall below the minimum wage for their normal working hours.

It also expresses that any worker working less than 90 per cent of their normal working hours must be offered funded training.

The scheme should also ensure full flexibility in working hours and make it mandatory for employers to place an agreement with their workers, with through a union or through consultations.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady stated:

In a changing and unpredictable world – as we battle climate change and new technologies emerge – a permanent short-time working scheme would help make our labour market more resilient and protect jobs and livelihoods.

Too often in the past, periods of economic and industrial change have been badly mismanaged – increasing inequalities and leaving working people and whole communities abandoned.

Setting up a ‘daughter of furlough’ to provide certainty to workers and firms through future industrial change would be a fitting pandemic legacy.

Furlough has been a lifeline for millions of working people during the pandemic. Now is the time for the government to build on the success of furlough with a short-time working scheme – not throw away its good work.


*This research has been outlined in the TUC report “Beyond furlough: why the UK needs a permanent short-time work scheme”.