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Local lockdowns reveal the need to protect workers’ wages

Published date
Local lockdowns are now in place in several parts of the North. With the furlough scheme due to end in October, thousands of workers are now at risk of loss of income.

The imposition of stricter lockdown rules in parts of North West England highlights the need for the government to protect the incomes of workers hit by stricter rules.

As well as the additional local lockdowns, alongside the one already in place in Leicester, the government postponed August opening plans for casinos, bowling alleys and ice rinks, in a move affecting tens of thousands of workers.

Other workers will have to isolate as they return from holiday in countries such as Spain.

But this hasn’t so far prompted a change in government plans to phase out its furlough scheme. This has been paying 80 per cent of the wages of workers at businesses suffering a slump in demand. It also covers those with caring or health needs which require them to stay at home.

Likewise, sick pay rules remain unchanged. Earlier in the pandemic, many of those who needed to self-isolate were given rights to sick pay. But statutory pay-outs are still low and many miss out on this right due to low wages.

The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • tell bosses to continue to pay full wages to workers in self-isolation wherever possible
  • extend eligibility to sick pay to all workers
  • boost statutory sick pay to the level of the Real Living Wage
  • extend the Job Retention Scheme.

What has the government said?

The government has announced a tightening of lockdown in Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.

People from different households will not be allowed to meet in homes or private gardens or mix in pubs and restaurants.

The government has yet to close down any additional workplaces.

Nevertheless, the spread of coronavirus is likely to lead to more people being required to self-isolate.

Can I get sick pay?

Employees and workers must receive any sick pay due to them from their first day of self-isolation if it is because:

  • they have coronavirus
  • they have coronavirus symptoms, such as a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • they've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.

Many good employers will keep workers on full pay if they are unable to work from home.
In these circumstances, it is important that all workers, including those on temporary contracts, are treated in the same way.

But in other workplaces workers might have to rely on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Eligibility to SSP should therefore be extended to the two million workers who currently do not get it because they do not earn enough. The lower earnings limit for SSP should be abolished.

The level of £95.85 a week is inadequate to help people avoid hardship. The weekly level of sick pay should increase to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the Real Living Wage.

Extending the furlough scheme

Under the Job Retention Scheme unveiled four months ago, bosses can ask workers to go on furlough and in return get 80 per cent of the wages of affected workers (and other costs) paid by the taxpayer, up to £2,500 a month.

This applies to those workplaces where there is not enough work for the workers, as well as where a worker has caring needs or health issues that keep them out of the workplace.

Nearly nine million workers were covered by the scheme in June.

Crucially, employers can re-furlough workers who have previously been on furlough, giving them an important tool to shield staff from the impact of local lockdowns or other factors hitting demand.

But, from August to October, the amount paid by the state will be reduced each month. Employers will have to make up the rest.

The worry is that this will lead many employers to opt for redundancies over continuing furlough and being more reticent about re-furloughing workers in the face of local lockdowns.

The government has said the scheme will end altogether after October.

The TUC is calling on the government to extend the job retention scheme for circumstances where support is needed beyond October. This should include:

  • workers whose GP or clinician advises that they should continue shielding - and workers who live with them
  • workers affected by local lockdowns
  • carers, particularly working parents who must prioritise childcare until schools and childcare settings fully reopen
  • businesses with a viable future that can't operate because of virus restrictions, including those in the hardest hit sectors like retail, aviation and manufacturing.
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