In the coming months workers face an out-of-work drive as much as a back-to-work one.
Some manufacturing and construction sites are restarting, usually slowly and partially. But between 11 May and 17 May the number on the government’s furlough scheme went up from 7.5 million to 8 million.
Taking an optimistic assumption that “the lockdown period starts to be eased from the middle of May and... economic activity... resume[s] safely in the second half of the year”, the National Institute of Economic Research estimated in late April that unemployment would rise to “about 10 per cent of the workforce in the second half of 2020".
Similar jobless figures are estimated for countries which have had lighter human losses from the pandemic, and again for others which have locked down less. A 10% rate later this year is estimated for Australia, 15% for New Zealand, 10% for Sweden, 8.5% for Germany. The USA is at 15% already. Chinese economists have estimated China’s rate as 20.5% already (and then retracted the figure).
Aviation and tourism will have long and deep slumps even on the most optimistic guesses about the future of the pandemic, and those slumps will echo down supply chains. A snowball effect may follow as firms become unable to pay off previously-contracted debts and the supply of new credit shrinks.
At the mechanical digger manufacturer JCB, the GMB union is doing a deal to save “up to 915” jobs by workers doing reduced hours and being paid 39, but only on basic contractual rates.
Hundreds of white-collar jobs, and 500 agency jobs, at JCB are still under threat. Likewise 9,000 jobs at Rolls Royce, 10,000 across Europe in Airbus, 12,000 in British Airways, 2,600 in Scottish and Southern Energy.
“Entry-level” job openings for school-leavers and students finishing university look like being sharply down this year.
The website of Unite, the biggest union in manufacturing, is full of protests about these job cuts. But as remedy the union calls only for the government to set up a National Recovery Council with union representation.
The most immediate call on the government should be for the continuation of the furlough scheme at its full rates through to October, and for extra funding to local authorities.
The labour movement should also demand an increase in good, in-house, publicly-employed jobs in health and social care.
Unions should work out their own plans for converting industrial equipment and skills in industries to new uses, and for shorter working weeks without loss of pay. And start discussing possibilities for industrial action.