Unite union warns of ‘redundancy floodgates’ as end of furlough scheme approaches

Left-wing union leader Len McCluskey has made a surprise move in asking for a meeting with Boris Johnson to plead for an emergency jobs package when the furlough scheme ends next month.

In a letter to the prime minister, he has urged him to act before the “redundancy floodgates” pour open and is calling for special help from the government for manufacturing, aviation and hospitality.

“I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you and (Chancellor) Rishi Sunak to discuss this urgent request,” Mr McCluskey writes, in an approach that will be seen as a pragmatic move from a union leader caricatured as left-wing firebrand “Red Len”.

Mr McCluskey’s plea also comes after he warmly praised an offer from Sir Keir Starmer, in a speech to the TUC, to join Mr Johnson in a “national plan” to create jobs, with the Labour leader declaring: “My door is open.”

But the appeal from Mr McCluskey for talks in Number 10 is likely to receive short shrift from Mr Johnson, who has insisted the furlough scheme must end and be replaced by a new KickStart scheme which will place jobless people in work rather than pay them while not working.

The prime minister, who is bitterly at odds with union leaders over Brexit, will also be reluctant to take part in an initiative which would inevitably be portrayed as a return to the “beer and sandwiches” meetings between union leaders and the Labour governments of the 1960s and 70s.

In his letter to the PM, the Unite leader writes: “This week will mark 45 days until the Job Retention Scheme comes to an end.

“With no sign yet of your government moving to extend or modify the scheme, there is the very real fear that this landmark will open the floodgates for redundancy notices as employers seek to comply with the 45 days notice period.”

Calling on the government “to save businesses and workers from this cliff edge”, Mr McCluskey says such a move would “put a floor under struggling employers who are working hard to stabilise” and help save jobs.

“Winter and Christmas are fast approaching and the recent rise in the virus infection rate is very concerning, as your recent ‘rule of six’ ruling underscores, but it also indicates that any sense of ‘normal’ consumer behaviour and economic activity will not return for some time,” Mr McCluskey writes.

Offering Unite’s help to the government to draw up plans and develop “nuanced support”, Mr McCluskey says it is vital that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is extended.

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