The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – or Furlough – is already being wound down and is due to conclude at the end of October.
More than 200,000 workers in Northern Ireland benefited from the scheme which ensured that they received up to 80% of their normal wages and retained their jobs while unable to go to work because of the Coronavirus restrictions.
The scheme has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic, particularly for women who represented the majority of recipients.
Extension, development and protection
The Workers Party has written to Economy Minister Diane Dodds calling for the scheme’s extension, development and protection.
The Party letter argues for the Furlough scheme to be extended beyond the end of October and well into 2021. It also makes the case for direct government funding for retraining and upskilling workers whose jobs may be in jeopardy in the longer term and calls for increased support for apprenticeship places. Additional and targeted support for ‘back to work’ initiatives is also called for.
Many political figures and some media commentators argue that the government can’t afford to continue with the Furlough scheme. The reality is that working people cannot afford to do without it. Furlough is funded by public taxation: it does not come out of the pockets of MPs, MLAs or radio talk show hosts, all of whom are the least affected by the financial impact of C19.
Across Europe similar schemes are being retained and enhanced. France is committed to funding 85% of wages for the next two years. Germany is supporting full time pay for part time work and its support package is due to run for a further 21 months. Spain will be continuing to provide support well into 2021 and Italy will be extending its support packages until the end of this year at least.
Where it is possible to return to work that should be encouraged, but only when that is safe to do so, when an agreed plan involving workers and their trade unions has been reached and when all social distancing, monitoring, and health and safety measures are in place.
That will not be immediately possible for all work places. The threat of the pandemic is continuing and that must be recognised through responsible and realistic government planning. The Furlough Scheme is a central part of that approach and must be extended, developed and protected.