‘Retrograde step’ | Staff asked to pay back furlough money

Staff asked to pay back furlough money

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has proven to be a lifeline for hundreds of businesses and their staff in the UK, as it has allowed many employers to keep staff and secure jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, it has been alleged that some workers are being asked to contribute to furlough payments from their own wages.

According to The Stage, offstage workers are being asked to sign contracts requiring them to repay their employer furlough contributions from their own pay packet once shows can resume in the UK, industry bodies have said.

The plans to ask workers to pay these fees has been described as a ‘retrograde step’ that could also cast doubt on the future of these professionals within the sector.

Under the furlough scheme, employees were entitled to receive 80% of their wages, but from August, employers who wish to keep staff on the scheme will have to start paying National Insurance and pension contributions, as well as ten per cent of wages from September which is set to increase to 20% from October.

The Stage reported that producers are considering asking backstage staff to sign contracts that would require them to repay employer furlough contributions, however, it is understood that they have not been formally rolled out and are currently in discussion.

As part of the repayment request, the amount that employers paid towards furlough contributions could be taken away from workers’ wages when shows start up once again. Workers who do not return to the show could also be made to pay back the furlough contributions in full.

Following the news, The Stage Management Association stated that it was aware of the conversations regarding furlough repayments, as well as the discussions about contract clauses where workers would be required to cease work without pay or benefits with immediate effect, if they tested positive with COVID-19.

Andy Rowley, Executive Director for the association said that he was “very concerned that the emergence of contract clauses that require often relatively low-paid artists and stage management to share the financial risk in these endeavours is a retrograde step”.

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The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) revealed that these decisions reflect the uncertainty of the industry. A source added: “These discussions reflect the difficult position employers and people across the industry are in, as it is still paralysed with no idea of when it will be able to make money again.

“Given these circumstances, it isn’t surprising that producers and theatre workers are exploring options that would not even be a last resort if the industry had been better supported throughout the pandemic.”

Furlough concerns

Research has indicated that employees up and down the UK are growing more and more anxious regarding redundancy as a result of being furloughed, something that is reflected within the arts industry.

According to data shared by OnBuy.com, 75% of employees who are currently on furlough are concerned about being made redundant in future.

A source at BECTU continued: “As the clock counts down to August, when employers will be required to contribute to the furlough scheme, we are approaching a pivotal moment for the future of the workforce that can’t be overestimated.”

Fraudulent activity

With so many employers opting to use the furlough scheme to support their business, several cases of fraud have also started to emerge. In fact, HR Grapevine previously reported that 34% of UK employees have been asked by their boss to work while on the scheme, according to Crossland Employment Solicitors.

Meanwhile, HMRC recently announced that the first arrests in connection with alleged furlough fraud have been made. It was reported that an unnamed man from the West Midlands was arrested on July 8, in connection with claims of a £495,000 case of abuse.

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Comments (1)

  • dan
    Tue, 21 Jul 2020 1:01pm BST
    "Under the Government grant, employers are expected to gradually pay back the funds they received to support a business; "
    where does this information come from? is this true?

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