Furlough vs Key workers

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week its “Furlough vs Key Workers”.

Thanks to the Conservatives at Westminster the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic are Furlough workers. 80 percent of salaries paid for up to a limit of £2500 per month to more than 9 million employees across the United Kingdom. Though Furlough is not a recognised term in UK employment law, it is commonly used in the US to lay-off or suspend staff  without pay! Employers can also furlough those who are temporarily unable to work because; they’re ‘shielding’ (told to stay at home by the NHS because of an underlying health condition), someone in their household is shielding, they have childcare responsibilities and/or they’re caring for a vulnerable person in their household. The Furlough scheme; AKA Job Retention Scheme is open only to those workers/employees who are on payroll. Due to the complexities of this scheme, it has been reported that many employers and employees have been abusing the system to maximise their income as the current unemployment benefits like Universal Credits have huge caveats that are discouraging people from applying. Eg. savings threshold and the maximum amount available which is far less than the generous furlough payments. All in all Furlough workers have benefitted immensely from the Chancellors epic scheme.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Key workers. Before the pandemic these groups of people were considered unskilled workers and were subjected to zero hour contracts, low wages, no sick and holiday pay along with the special privilege of not being given work if they spoke up against their employers. These key workers were instrumental in keeping the country moving when the majority of furloughed staff were holidaying and enjoying their unexpected break which was paid for by the tax payers. Supermarket staff in Peebles, along with carers and other essential workers were forced to work in hazardous conditions eg. no PPE equipment and having no way to play the system by being furloughed so that they could protect themselves and their family and friends from the coronavirus. The salary of these so called key workers are very low and many find it had to make ends meet. Politicians don’t really care about these key workers because if they did, they would be passing legislation to increase the salaries of what we now know as being crucial to keep the economy and country moving. The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) is a leading economy research institute based in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The Covid-19 pandemic has awoken many to the role that key workers play in our society. But who exactly are they, and what do we know about them? This (FAI) research helps give us a basic understanding of this group of workers. For example, over a third of workers in Scotland are a key worker, this equates to approximately 920,000 people in Scotland and nearly half are in the public sector! Plus to make matters worse most key workers are women, work part-time and have the lowest wages. It’s interesting to note that Scottish Borders Council’s Chief Executive is a women, drawing a salary over £100,000, plus extra top-ups for any additional duties along with the Leader of the Council being the highest paid elected representative. These two women if they choose to do so, can make a huge difference by raising the salaries of the frontline staff but will choose not to, just in case it upsets the powers that be and may jeopardise their own salaries and positions.

So! The next time these elected representatives tell you to clap for the NHS and Key Workers, please think again and don’t fall for this con and deflection by the Conservatives. They really don’t care about anyone else other than themselves. What the Key Workers now need is a much needed  paid holiday and a raise. No more clapping! Will you as the public make this happen and hold your Politicians accountable?

To all Key Workers in Scotland, some of us have not forgotten you and thank you for all the sacrifices you have made.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 17th July 2020.

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