A petition launched to stop workers from being paid less than the national minimum wage through the government’s furlough scheme during the coronavirus pandemic has gathered more than 11,000 signatures.
The appeal, launched by Labour MP Richard Burgon and signed by 11,347 people, warns that the 80% furlough subsidy provided by the government in the Covid crisis has left more than two million people earning less than the legal minimum.
Commenting on the petition, Burgon said: “Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are being pushed further into poverty because the government refuses to make sure no worker on furlough gets less than the minimum wage.
“I’m pleased that over ten thousand people have backed my campaign to fix this problem – but I’m frustrated that it has come to this. People don’t believe that the lowest paid workers should be the ones bearing the cost of our response to this terrible virus.
“It’s called the minimum wage for a reason – the government needs to do the right thing and act to ensure nobody is paid less than it.”
Figures published by the the Office for National Statistics recently revealed that the number of people earning below the legal minimum had risen more than fivefold to 2,043,000 in April 2020, up from 409,000 during the same period in 2019.
The data from the independent statistics authority also showed that the lowest-paying jobs were more than five times more likely to be furloughed with reduced pay, with employers more likely to top-up pay for the highest earners.
Burgon and 30 other Labour MPs wrote to Rishi Sunak in October calling for the implementation of a minimum wage floor in the furlough programme, highlighting that workers over the age of 25 are now on the 2009 minimum wage rate.
And the news today on the petition also follows an early day motion tabled by the East Leeds MP last month on the introduction of a minimum wage floor in the job retention scheme. It received the backing of 30 MPs from six political parties.
The ‘national living wage’ for those aged 25 and over is supposed to be £8.72 an hour. The national minimum wage for those aged between 21 and 25 is £8.20 and for those aged 18 to 20 is £6.45 an hour.
The independent Low Pay Commission estimated recently that nearly half of all jobs, 48%, paying at or below the national minimum wage were found in retail, hospitality and cleaning and maintenance occupations.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds called on the government to provide more support for families struggling over the winter this year following the publication of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week.
The analysis by the charity found that destitution rose by 54% between 2017 and 2019 and that 2.4 million people – including over half a million children – were experiencing “extreme hardship” before coronavirus even hit the country.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, reported a 47% rise in food parcels given out by its volunteers between April and September, which it says reflects the dramatic increase in demand for food aid during Covid.
The trust revealed that during the first six months it distributed 1.2m food parcels, of which 470,000 went to families with children. April was its busiest month on record with the volume of food it handed out up by 59% on 2019.
The demand in the petition for a minimum wage floor echoes calls from the unions. The TUC recently warned that living on 80% of your wage is a struggle, but more so if it “pushes you below the already insufficient legal minimum wage”.
Below is the full text of the petition.
No one should ever be paid less than the national minimum wage. But the government’s furlough scheme is leaving millions of low-paid workers on less than this basic minimum pay.
New official figures show that over two million workers have been paid less than the national minimum wage this year. That’s nearly five times as many as in 2019.
This crisis shouldn’t be paid for on the backs of low paid workers. So we are calling on the government to introduce a wage floor in the furlough scheme to make sure that no worker gets paid less than the national minimum wage.