Retail trade union Usdaw is disappointed that the Chancellor hasn’t taken the opportunity to ensure the lowest paid workers don’t pay the price for a second lockdown in England, as he today announced a necessary extension of the Job Retention Scheme to the end of March next year.

According to Office for National Statistics data published this week, the UK’s worst-paid workers were over 20 times more likely to be furloughed on reduced pay than the highest earners. More than half who were usually paid less than £8.72 per hour were furloughed with a pay cut, compared with 2.5% of those earning more than £29.67.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“It is crucial that low-paid workers do not pay the price of fighting this appalling pandemic. Today the Chancellor did not address the injustices in the Job Retention Scheme, although the extension does provide some certainty for businesses and job security for workers. This is good news and should have been done sooner. But is it enough?

“Furloughed workers struggling to make ends meet face the prospect of only 80% of the statutory minimum wage for the hours they usually work. Their wages should be protected and topped up to at least the National Living Wage for the normal hours they work. With many employers not topping up wages, around two million workers were paid less than the legal minimum wage last April.

“It cannot be right that our lowest paid are plunged into poverty when we should all be working together to overcome this crisis. There also needs to be reform of Statutory Sick Pay to ensure that low-paid workers can afford to self-isolate or take time off when they are ill. This has to be a crucial part of limiting the spread of the virus. Also there needs to be significant reform of Universal Credit and confirmation that there will not be a £20 per week cut to income in April.

“While we have understood the extraordinary measures the Government has had to take, we are concerned by their overall response. Too often the Government has chased the pandemic, rather than get ahead of it. The early closure of furlough and the last minute extension caused a great deal of uncertainty for business and we have no doubt that redundancy decisions were made because of this chaos. There needs to be a better planned approach, an openness to work collectively and an understanding that we are all in this together, so nobody should be left behind.”

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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