Furlough can you go?

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 16:17,
TfL/LUL head office, SE1

TfL and LU bosses have announced, via a bulletin from TfL Commissioner Mike Brown, that they intend to explore the use of the government's "Job Retention Scheme" to place some of us on "furlough", essentially a paid leave of absence. The government scheme subsidises 80% of employees' wages, with bosses having the option to top up the remaining 20%.

TfL/LU have committed to paying any permanently-contracted employees who are furloughed in full, and committed that pension arrangements won't be affected. Brown's bulletin says the initial furlough period will be for three weeks, with a possible extension beyond that. There aren't any concrete details about which of us will be in scope for immediate furloughing. Brown simply says that "from next week, line managers will be having discussions with colleagues [...] who are unable to work from home about going on furlough." This suggests that operational staff and most engineering staff, who definitely can't work from home, will be in the scope of furloughing.

Government guidance says that employers can't use the scheme to avoid paying occupational sick pay, so anyone actually off sick, with the virus or otherwise, couldn't be furloughed, and TfL/LU would continuing paying us sick pay under normal contractual arrangements. But TfL/LU could potentially furlough staff from across the business who are well but self-isolating, distancing, or shielding at home due to being in an increased risk or high risk group, or because we live with someone who is, or because we live with someone who has symptoms.

On the face of it, this shouldn't necessarily be cause for concern for permanently-employed staff. One might query whether it would've been more straightforward for the Department for Transport to simply subisidise TfL directly, given that we are a publicly-owned transport provider, but nevertheless, if the scheme is administered properly, no-one loses any pay or pension entitlement, it may even solve the problem of bullying bosses putting pressure on staff to return to work, or threatening to cut the pay of people who distance or isolate at home. However, unions must press for clarity about how workers will be identified for furlough and how the decision will be made. This process must be fair and transparent.

Of more concern is Brown's statement that TfL will be "reviewing contracts for all non-permanent employees." We cannot allow workers on fixed-term contracts to be treated as disposable commodities for our bosses to do away with when they need to save money. Their jobs must be protected, and any furlough scheme extended to them if necessary.

Finally, TfL and LU must also take direct responsibility for self-employed and outsourced workers under their umbrella. If major contractors like ABM begin furloughing cleaners, LU must top up their wages if necessary. Better still, they should cut out the middle person by taking cleaners into direct employment. TfL must also guarantee the wages of self-employed contractors who rely on TfL-held contracts, whether that's self-employed engineering contractors organised by RMT, or workers like the cycle instructors represented by the Independent Workers' union of Great Britain (IWGB) Cycle Instructors Branch, whose petition we encourage you to sign.

Those of us who've experienced various organisational restructures - Company Plan, OSP, Fit for the Future, "Transformation", and more - know that, when it comes down to it, to our bosses we're just numbers on a spreadsheet and figures in a budget. Continuous union pressure is required to ensure no jobs are lost and no pay is cut. Any worker who is furloughed must be guaranteed that they'll have a job, and protected terms and conditions, to go back to once the pandemic ends.

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