Unions warn of jobs uncertainty after Boris Johnson’s road map unveiled

Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent
·3-min read

Workers are left worrying about their jobs after the Prime Minister’s announcement because some businesses will not be able to reopen before the furlough scheme ends, union leaders warned.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said there could be a gap of months before workers know if they still have a job.

“The Government must stop dithering and delaying and extend the full furlough scheme for at least the rest of 2021, and it must (give) urgent support for the self-employed.

“With jobs and livelihoods hanging in the balance there is no reason to keep workers and businesses waiting.

“We need a plan for supporting the parts of the economy hit hardest by repeated lockdown restrictions, like hospitality, retail, aviation and the creative industries.

“Ministers cannot watch from the sidelines as companies go the wall.

Travellers wait for trains on the concourse at King’s Cross station in central London (Victoria Jones/PA)
Travellers wait for trains on the concourse at King’s Cross station in central London (Victoria Jones/PA)

“If the Prime Minister wants to make sure we never go into lockdown again, he must do a better job of keeping people safe as they return to workplaces in large numbers.

“That means beefing up workplace safety guidance so that it’s in line with the latest science and cracking down on employers who put staff in danger,” she said.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said: “While there is light at the end of the tunnel, the Prime Minister today left many industries with ongoing questions and support needs.

“As we continue to live with coronavirus, capacity on public transport will remain constrained for the foreseeable future while social-distancing measures are kept in place.

“The Government must make clear how they will support our trains, buses, Tube, trams and ferries which are the vital public transport links our country relies on.

“What support will be given to keep them going until social distancing is removed and people can go back to their normal workplaces rather than work from home?

“And will the Government to commit to bringing rail into public ownership where it rightly belongs?”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said a cautious approach was the right way to balance getting the country moving again and limit virus spread.

“It’s clear restrictions were relaxed too quickly last time and there can be no repeat mistakes.

“By ensuring staff are encouraged to have the vaccine by their employers and paid wages in full if they need to isolate, ministers can drive infection rates down even further.

“The Government should also follow the lead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by applying the steady approach to schools with a phased reopening rather than going for broke.

“Along with toughening safety measures, that’s the way to keep staff, pupils and everyone else safe.”

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said the reopening of non-essential stores offered a lifeline for many retailers.

He added: “That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there. It is essential that the tests set out by the Government before reopening are followed, so that shops only reopen when the data suggests that it will be safe.

“When they do reopen, we expect employers to maintain necessary safety measures, including two-metre distancing, and call on customers to follow the rules and respect staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled. It should never be just a part of the job and shopworkers must be respected.

“Retail staff are working with the public every day and are not only facing increased abuse, but also a higher chance of catching Covid-19. That needs to be taken into account when deciding priority lists for vaccines.

“The Government must prioritise vulnerable occupations in the second phase of the vaccine rollout, reflecting the risks they face.”