Government told to extend furlough scheme into 2021 to prevent 'tsunami of job losses'
A job center plus in London. (PA)
Union bosses have warned that the UK is facing a "tsunami of job losses" unless the government expands its job retention system and provides targeted support to the most vulnerable industries.
"I am really afraid of a tsunami of job losses as we begin to introduce changes to the job retention system and employer contributions," said Steve Turner, Unite's deputy general secretary, on Thursday to Parliament's Economic, Energy and Industrial Strategy Selection Committee .
Turner said he had already seen companies consult thousands of layoffs in sectors such as automotive before making changes to the job retention system in August. Bentley, Aston Martin, McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover have announced job cuts in the past few weeks.
Read more: British employers have cut 600,000 employees since March
9.1 million people are on leave under the state job retention program, almost a third of the UK workforce. Under the program announced in March, the state pays 80% of the salaries of non-employed workers, up to a maximum of £ 2,500 per month.
Unite's Steve Turner speaks during a rally at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (PA)
The program has cost the Treasury more than £ 20bn ($ 25bn) so far, and employers using the program are asked to contribute to its costs in August.
Turner and other union bosses warned that gradually reducing the system would likely result in thousands of job losses as many industries are unable to contribute to the costs.
Read More: 9 million workers were concerned when the cost of the program reached £ 20 billion
"If the changes in the JRS [Job Retention Scheme] take place in August, even though they are only moderate in August, this will stimulate the loss of jobs and they are already building up," said Mike Clancy, Secretary General of Prospect.
"It is not an attitude. It's a real reaction from employers who don't have the money to fund even moderate changes in the JRS. "
Clancy specifically referred to the theater and performing arts industries. His warning came hours after legendary West End theater producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh began layoffs on his productions and said he could not advocate a safe reopening of the theaters.
Read more: Culture secretary points to rescue operations in the theater when jobs are cut
"The creative industry is now facing a major and real crisis," Christine Payne, general secretary of the Equity Union of Actors, told MPs.
She estimated that 400,000 jobs across the industry could be lost without further government support. Payne said the job retention program should be extended "until at least March, April next year". The program is currently expected to be completed in October.
Christine Payne, Secretary General, Equity. (PA)
Clancy added that changes or additions need to be announced urgently to avoid widespread job losses.
"This has to be sorted out within three or four weeks," he said. "It is an absolute crisis that needs to be addressed now."
Read more: MEPs warn over a million workers excluded from employment plans
All union bosses who provided evidence to the selection committee called for more targeted intervention to help certain sectors that may have difficulty recovering quickly when the UK economy begins to reopen.
"We need an economic plan for key sectors of our economy," said Gary Smith, Secretary of GMB Scotland.
"Our recovery will not fall from the sky and it cannot happen if we continue to export jobs that could and should be done here."
Sectors selected for targeted support included retail, hospitality, leisure, aviation and manufacturing, and creative arts.
Read more: Call on the Treasury to take over £ 15bn in UK companies and then sell shares to the public
"What we need is for the government to participate in some of these foundation industries to provide real long-term security," said Turner.
"We have intervened in the past and I think we will have to intervene a bit in the future, as they do in Germany, France, Spain and even the United States."
"I think this will be devastating without direct government intervention at this point. That is what this sectoral regulation requires. "
Tory MP Bim Afolami earlier this week asked the Treasury to set up a £ 15 billion (US $ 19 billion) "recovery fund" for British companies, in which the government would take a direct stake in companies.
The government is reportedly considering such a project, code-named Project Birch, although no formal announcements have been made.
1.5 million submitted new unemployment benefits last week
Yahoo Finance's Tom Belger got the latest from London.
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