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Concerns rise for those on zero hours contracts, low pay or in insecure employment

Concerns rise for those on zero hours contracts, low pay or insecure employment as workers continue to speak out. Greens say gaps in government plan to help employees mean city’s businesses and workers will need continued support to face covid-19 hit.

The impact of coronavirus measures on businesses and employees in the city will leave many facing sharp losses of income, Greens have said today, raising particular concern about people in insecure work or on ‘zero hours’ contracts.

Information sent to Green Councillors suggests that some employees in the city have been left ‘falling through the safety net’, as a result of inconsistencies in employment practices or delays in applying for grant payments.

While there are many examples of excellent practice in the city, Greens have received information that suggests some employees are:

  • being laid off, rather than ‘furloughed,’
  • experiencing reductions in hours and subsequently in pay, as a result of being on ‘zero hours’ contracts;
  • in need of extra support, after being made redundant prior to the introduction of government measures
  • unable to access furlough, as employers have failed to apply

Particular concerns have been raised over the support for people on ‘zero hours’ contracts who are still being asked to work, with some reports of businesses moving to reduce employee hours or make staff redundant in order to manage the impact of coronavirus on their income. A government grant – the ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’ – has been set up to help employees pay up to 80% of staff salaries, but there are concerns that some employers are not engaging with the scheme. National employment bodies have also warned that some employers could fail to take into account the impact of staff commission on people’s expected ‘take home’ pay when applying for a grant to cover staff wages.

While government measures to support employees and businesses have been broadly welcomed, Greens say it is vital that employers and employees in the city are aware of flaws in the support measures that could leave people in hardship.

An update requested by the Greens going to a meeting of Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee (7th May) states that freelance, self-employed and small limited companies are being particularly affected by covid19, with many people ‘seeking universal credit as their only means of income.’ Issues have also been raised by some employers who are not eligible to receive the Government grant or are struggling to pay rent.

Pointing to the high numbers of self-employed, freelance and ‘micro businesses,’ operating in the city, as well as the rise of ‘zero hours’ work, Greens say both employers and employees in the city currently face anxiety over their future, urging the council to do more to promote best practice from all employers, and to explore how support can be offered even after any lockdown restrictions end.

Green Councillor Marianna Ebel, opposition spokesperson for Tourism, Equality, Communities and Culture committee commented:

“We are very concerned about people’s livelihoods after having been contacted by people working on zero-hour contracts who are now facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the information we have suggests that the majority of employers are doing everything possible to support their staff, a few alarming cases of bad practice – particularly in relation to ‘zero hours’ workers – are coming forward. Employers, not staff, are required to apply for the Government job support grant – and some workers in the city have contacted us to say that their employers have not applied on their behalf, despite a huge drop-off in the availability of work.”

Cllr Ebel added:

“Considering the high number of residents in our city who rely on casual work, part-time jobs and zero-hour contracts, we see a real danger of large numbers of people losing out on desperately needed income and falling into debt.  Support is needed for employers and staff.

“Equally, any purposeful negligence on behalf of employers must be called out. The council’s ethical framework for buying goods and services states that when it comes to working with companies, the council should aim to work with those who improve the lives of their staff and promote a culture of ‘high ethical standards.’ Ultimately, we need to support the many employers in our city demonstrating care for their staff, and stand against bad practices when we make partnership or purchasing decisions in the future.

“What’s more, our local economy will need our continued support even after lockdown restrictions ease. Our concerns are that gaps in the Government’s job retention scheme could leave many in our city in hardship. For example, by the time self-employed workers receive self-employed income support in June this year, it will be too late for many. Other European countries are much quicker to pay out funds to those in need. On top of this, many employers will struggle to pay commercial rents and may need a longer term, flexible approach.”

Green Councillor Clare Rainey, member of the TECC Committee, commented:

“There are many employers and employees in our city who may need assistance navigating the complex system of employment support schemes and how they apply to each individual or business and we have been concerned to learn that many are falling through gaps in the system. As we look to support the sector, it’s vital that employers and employees are made aware of the loopholes that could leave many workers facing financial difficulty.

“From dental practices to independent traders and language schools, we have also heard from businesses who are struggling to stay afloat at this time due to continued pressure of commercial rents or the unwelcome discovery that they are not in receipt of government grant schemes.

“As a result, we are inviting residents and employers to continue to raise issues, and particularly for staff to alert us to bad practices. We also demand that financial help is paid out as quickly as possible – and the council’s role in this will require careful monitoring. Greens have asked the Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture (TECC) committee to receive a regular report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy, so that all parties are aware of what needs to be done and where problem issues are emerging.

“In doing so, we also urge the council to develop a long-term plan for supporting independent businesses and enterprises, protecting freelance, part-time and zero-hour workers, and especially the many small businesses in our vibrant and unique events, hospitality and tourism sectors. In our view this is also connected to the longstanding Green campaign for a living wage for all staff, and current interest in a ‘universal basic income’ to ensure no one is forced to live below the poverty line.”

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