Furloughed UK employees cleared to undertake extra work

The UK government will not block furloughed employees from taking on additional work during the coronavirus crisis, in a boost for industries such as farming that have been hit by labour shortages. Updated guidance for employers issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy this week states that “if contractually allowed, your employees are permitted to work for another employer whilst you have placed them on furlough”, following requests from industry groups for clarification of these workers’ status. However, the new guidance does not go as far as some sectors had requested.

Care providers have called for legislation to ensure furloughed individuals wishing to work for the National Health Service or social care providers can do so regardless of the terms of their existing job contracts. Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents more than 3,700 social care providers, last week warned that the sector was “already facing critical shortages of staff because of the requirement to self-isolate if a family member has or is suspected of having Covid-19”.  The National Farmers’ Union said that despite the lack of legislation, the latest move would help pave the way to hire local workers for some 70,000 to 80,000 seasonal harvesting roles normally filled by migrants, many of whom will be unable to travel this year. 

Universal credit applications in the UK surged to 10 times their normal level in the two weeks to April 1, but millions of people are also set to be furloughed, with their jobs placed on hold and 80 per cent of their salaries paid under a government scheme launched because of coronavirus. 

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The crisis looks set to prompt mass transfers of workers from sectors that are unable to operate, such as food service and hospitality, to those needing more labour than usual, such as healthcare and food retail. Farmers had been concerned they would be forced to let crops rot, after border closures, transport cancellations and the fear of infection reduced the flow of eastern European migrant workers to a trickle. Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Growers that rely on seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack our fresh fruit, veg and flowers are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions may have on their ability to recruit this critical workforce this season.”

But Stephanie Maurel, chief executive of the work placements charity Concordia, said 26,000 people had already applied through a recruitment drive launched with two other agencies. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, working with industry bodies, will launch an online portal this month to match workers with roles picking fruit and vegetables. The Road Haulage Association said more flexibility was needed for haulage companies to call back furloughed employees for jobs such as transporting medical supplies. “The volumes are so volatile, we need that flexibility,” said Richard Burnett.

RHA chief executive.

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