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Scottish Trades Union Congress 2020 Report finds nearly 200,000 furloughed workers were paid below minimum wage

TRADE union leaders slammed failed government support schemes yesterday after finding that nearly 200,000 workers in Scotland were paid below minimum wage because of the furlough scheme.

The Scottish TUC (STUC) has released a new report outlining the damage done to Scotland’s culture and hospitality sectors ahead of the organisation’s annual congress tomorrow.

The analysis, The Impact of Coronavirus on Hospitality and Creative Workers, shows these industries were particularly badly hit, with low earners five times more likely to be furloughed on reduced pay.

Hospitality and the arts have had the highest proportion of employees furloughed without their pay topped up, it said.

Workers in creative industries were also found to be more than twice as likely to be working two jobs than the workforce in general. Unions have warned that an increasing number are working in both creative industries and hospitality and thus face an uncertain future.

In Scotland an estimated 66,000 workers in hospitality and 16,000 workers in the arts were paid less than the minimum wage when furloughed, researchers found. 

Across Scotland as a whole, up to 190,000 workers received less than the minimum wage after being furloughed, with young workers disproportionately hit. 

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Workers across Scotland are suffering during the pandemic, and it doesn’t get much worse than for low paid workers in the culture and hospitality sectors, many of whom work multiple jobs part-time across both industries to make ends meet.  

“We know that thousands of self-employed workers and employed workers who did not qualify for furlough are in particularly dire straits. It’s bad news for them, but it’s also bad news for the culture of our country.”

Ms Foyer accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of “dithering” in his extension of the furlough scheme last month, leaving unions rushing to ask bosses to re-employ workers and costing thousands of jobs. 

She added: “The only good news is that where we see workers joining and becoming active in unions we have managed to have some influence on the disbursement of funds to the creative sector and to support workers in pressing employers to retain them on furlough.”

STUC culture unions also held a fringe meeting yesterday evening on the issue of self-employment in the creative and culture sectors.

Those involved included representatives from Unite Hospitality, who recently released a plan for a New Deal for Hospitality workers.

The plan would see an end to zero-hours contracts, the introduction of a real living wage, ensured trade union access and other measures to protect workers. 

Unite Hospitality Edinburgh chairman Morgan Tooth said: “This report shows the impact on the tens of thousands of precarious workers in the hospitality, events and creative arts sectors, but statistics can't convey the full extent of the devastation. 

“Zero-hours contract staff who already struggle to make ends meet have had to fight tooth and nail for 80 per cent of peanuts. 

“The report can’t paint the whole picture, but it does highlight just how necessary further government intervention is in order to prevent a full-scale collapse of our sector.”

The report follows a vote in Holyrood last week which saw opposition MSPs back a Labour motion committing to increasing financial support for the hospitality and tourism sector. 

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has described the STUC’s report as a “wake-up call” to ministers at Westminster and Holyrood, claiming both governments “need to face up to the fact that our hospitality and culture sectors need more support now.”  

“The report’s findings, including the disproportionate impact of the sectors’ woes on low earners and young people, show that we are now reaping the consequences not only of the pandemic, but also of years of political failure.

“Just as Scotland was unprepared for the public health crisis, the SNP government also left Scotland unprepared for the ensuing jobs crisis.”

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