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Furlough scheme extended - workers need 100% of wages
Rishi Sunak has announced the government's plans for the furlough scheme, which will be extended until October.
Almost a quarter of the entire British workforce have now been furloughed by their employers. As a result, the government is currently picking up 80% of the wage bill for 7.5 million workers, at a cost of £8 billion so far. This is expected to rise to £39 billion by the end of June, a sum equivalent to a year's spending on the NHS.
The government, with no plan for jobs or protecting workers living standards, is trapped. It is fearful of the growing costs of the scheme, but panicked by the rising predictions of unemployment. This is expected by some to rise from 4% to well over 10% - a level not seen since the 1970s - with all the subsequent problems that would bring.
Prior to the announcement on Tuesday 11 May, it seemed as if the government was about to relax the rules and allow workers to be able to return to work part time and claim part-time furlough money.
There were also proposals to reduce the amount of wages that could be claimed from 80% down to 60%, in order to both save money and force workers back to work, despite unsafe conditions.
If implemented, these proposals would have reduced government spending, and at the same time greatly increased poverty for workers already struggling with loss of income, with many forming part of the extra 1.8 million benefit claimants.
In the end, fearing the economic and social consequences of these proposals, the government backed off and extended the scheme for four months. Even many of the so-called free marketeer bosses were demanding that the government maintain the scheme post-June.
Even before the extension, millions of low-paid workers were struggling to pay the bills and, in some cases, put food on the table, because of a 20% cut in wages. Many are already falling into debt. For these workers, four more months on poverty pay could be disastrous. Some could feel compelled to go back to work, even if their workplace is not safe.
Poverty or safety is no choice
It is vital that the trade unions take a stand and demand that the government pay 100% of wages as the only way of protecting all workers. No worker should be faced with a choice of poverty or return to a workplace that may threaten the lives of them and their families. No worker unable to return to work because of a government-imposed shutdown should be out of pocket.
And it's time we started demanding the opening of the books of the big corporations who are happy to hold their hands out for bailouts while trillions lie idle in their bank accounts - money which could more than provide the funds to protect the livelihoods of workers.
In The Socialist 12 May 2020:
What we think
Spanish flu 1918
Lessons from history