Government must extend wage support for self-employed as layoffs look likely

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Unions are urging the government to extend its Coronavirus wage support scheme to help the millions of self-employed construction workers.

On Friday the Chancellor announced the government would pay up to 80% of employees wages to help firms avoid laying off its staff, however, self-employed workers are not eligible to the support lifeline.

There is a growing concern within the industry that millions of those that are self-employed will be thrown to the dogs and laid off. Another concern is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will enforce a full country lockdown, instantly closing construction sites as cases of COVID-19 rise.

Unite is urgently calling on the government to do more and support the self-employed during the Coronavirus crisis. The union warned its already seeing a reducing number of workers employed on construction sites around the country.

A Freedom of Information request found that around half of the entire construction workforce is paid via the CIS scheme or via umbrella companies.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The UK’s bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers will be deeply worried that if they are officially self-employed they will not be protected by the government’s scheme.

“Most construction workers are the primary breadwinners in their family and swift action is needed to ensure that they are protected throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“Over half of the industry is officially self-employed, with most of those bogusly self-employed. This is part of the hire and fire culture existing in construction which results in workers being dumped without warning or compensation during downturns.

“In the short term the million-plus workers paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) and the 300,000 plus workers paid through umbrella companies must be brought into the scope of the government’s wage support scheme and Unite will be lobbying government to ensure that occurs.

“In the long term, a commission is needed into construction employment to ensure that workers who survive on a feast and famine existence secure proper employment protections.”