GOVERNMENT SUPPORT TO PROTECT ZERO HOURS CONTRACT WORKERS DURING CORONAVIRUS CRISIS - BUT IS IT ENOUGH?
By Pravin Jeyaraj and James Johnson-Flint
Zero Hours Justice welcomes the Government's plan to pay 80% of the salary of retained non-working employees of UK businesses suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, up to £2500.
But we are extremely concerned about the holes in this package of help and lack of clarity, especially for the most vulnerable on zero hours contracts.
Two days after the announcement, it is still unclear how zero hours workers will be covered. Those sectors, such as food and hospitality, that have been hardest hit - with sales now at zero many have already taken action to lay such workers off.
According to the latest employment figures, the food and hospitality sector has the biggest proportion of its workers who are on zero hours contracts.
On Friday 20th March, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the setting up of the Coronovirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS), which will provide a grant to any employer "to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll, rather than being laid off."
In other words, anyone who is asked to stop working - but is not laid off or made redundant - because of the coronavirus pandemic - will still be paid 80% of their salary up to £2500, with employers having the option to top up the remaining 20%. There was however no specific mention in the Chancellor's speech of how this affects the around one million workers on zero hours contracts. However, in media questions that followed, he did say that zero hours contract workers will be protected too, as long as they are paid via PAYE, although how calculation is precisely made is not clear, albeit there was suggestion that if regular hours had been worked previously those would be applied. We are concerned that where workers have irregular hours, because of the very nature of the precarious employment so many are forced to accept, this may affect what they receive adversely, if they are lucky to be retained.
Where an employer chooses not apply to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, zero hours contract workers can apply for Universal Credit. The Universal Credit standard allowance is being increased by £1,000 a year, for the next 12 months. In addition, £1bn is being added to the Universal Credit budget, so that the Local Housing Allowance will cover at least 30% of market rents in the area. Improvements on where we were last week, yes, but still a stressful and financially precarious position so many will be in.
Is this enough?? We fear not and the days ahead will show just how much hardship those on zero hours contracts are likely to have to endure, due to no fault of their own.