Plan to help work­ers hit by virus

Arab Times - - INTERNATIO­NAL -

LON­DON, Sept 24, (AP): Bri­tain’s trea­sury chief on Thurs­day an­nounced a new in­come sup­port pro­gram for work­ers hurt by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic as the gov­ern­ment races to pre­vent wide­spread lay­offs when ear­lier em­ployer sub­si­dies end next month.

Chan­cel­lor Rishi Su­nak, in a speech to law­mak­ers, un­veiled his plan to sub­si­dize the wages of work­ers whose hours are cut due to the pan­demic as part of a wider pack­age of mea­sures to help busi­nesses and bol­ster the econ­omy. The plan comes in re­sponse to pres­sure from busi­nesses and la­bor unions to step in with more di­rect sup­port for peo­ple in pre­car­i­ous work sit­u­a­tions.

The new eco­nomic plan would re­place a fur­loughed worker pro­gram which is due to ex­pire next month. Un­der that pro­gram, the gov­ern­ment pays 80% of the wages of work­ers who are placed on leave.

“The pri­mary goal of our eco­nomic pol­icy re­mains un­changed – to sup­port peo­ple’s jobs – but the way we achieve that must evolve,’’ Su­nak said, adding that the gov­ern­ment wants to sup­port vi­able jobs, not pre­serve those that are no longer needed.

To un­der­score that his pro­pos­als have wide sup­port, Su­nak ap­peared out­side his of­fice be­fore de­liv­er­ing his speech, hold­ing a copy of the plan and flanked by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try and the Trades Union Congress.

The an­nounce­ment comes as COVID-19 cases con­tinue to rise across the UK, blunt­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery from a na­tion­wide lock­down im­posed in March.

The gov­ern­ment re­ported 6,178 new con­firmed cases Wed­nes­day, a 25% in­crease from the pre­vi­ous day and the UK’s high­est daily to­tal since May 1. To con­trol the spike in COVID-19 in­fec­tions, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment on Tues­day in­tro­duced new re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing a 10 p.m. cur­few for bars and restau­rants that goes into ef­fect Thurs­day.

Su­nak said he was wor­ried the fur­lough pro­gram al­lowed em­ploy­ers to pre­serve some jobs that would no longer be needed as the econ­omy adapts to a post-pan­demic world. While this was ap­pro­pri­ate to shield the econ­omy from the shock of the lock­down, the gov­ern­ment now wants to move the econ­omy in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

To en­sure that the gov­ern­ment is sup­port­ing the re­ten­tion of vi­able jobs, em­ploy­ers who par­tic­i­pate in the wage sup­port pro­gram will be re­quired to as­sign work­ers at least one-third of their pre­vi­ous hours. The gov­ern­ment will then pay two-thirds of the re­main­der, mean­ing em­ploy­ees will re­ceive about 80% of their prepan­demic wages.

“The gov­ern­ment will di­rectly sup­port the wages of peo­ple in work, giv­ing busi­nesses who face de­pressed de­mand the op­tion of keep­ing em­ploy­ees in a job on shorter hours rather than mak­ing them re­dun­dant,” Su­nak said.

The gov­ern­ment will of­fer sim­i­lar sup­port for the self-em­ployed.

In ad­di­tion to the wage sup­port pro­gram, Su­nak said the gov­ern­ment will help busi­nesses by ex­tend­ing loan re­pay­ment dead­lines and loan guar­an­tees pro­vided ear­lier this year. These included 38 bil­lion pounds ($43.8 bil­lion) of loans to 1 mil­lion small busi­nesses that will now be el­i­gi­ble to “pay as you grow.’’

“Busi­nesses who are strug­gling can now choose to make in­ter­est-only pay­ments and any­one in real trou­ble can ap­ply to sus­pend re­pay­ments all to­gether for up to six months,’’ he said.

Su­nak also said that he will ex­tend un­til March 31 the tem­po­rary re­duc­tion of the val­ued-added tax rate for hos­pi­tal­ity and tourism in­dus­tries, which have been par­tic­u­larly hard hit by the pan­demic. The cut to 5% from 20% had been sched­uled to end in Jan­uary.

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