Workers not eligible for furlough: “It’s been very stressful’

Amber Millar Chambers

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Amber Millar Chambers

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Amber Millar Chambers says being on the payroll at the Troxy would have meant she could be furloughed

Before lockdown, Amber Millar Chambers worked at two bar jobs to support her university studies. One furloughed her, the other didn’t.

She is among an unknown number of people in the UK who have lost out financially, because for more than three months, workers could not be part-furloughed. Workers not on a company’s payroll are also not eligible for the scheme.

The furlough scheme, brought in to mitigate the effects of coronavirus, allows employees to receive 80% of their monthly salary, up to £2,500.

More than a quarter of the UK workforce – 9.3 million people – are now being supported by it, but there are some that have not been eligible for help.

‘Legacy system’

Ms Millar Chambers says her employer didn’t give her a formal contract and that because she isn’t on a payroll, she has been excluded from being furloughed on one of her jobs, working at London’s Troxy music venue.

“They offered us a goodwill gesture,” she said, which amounted to about 40% of her pay during April and May, but nothing for March when the lockdown began, and nothing since.

“I can still put food on the table, but that’s only the result of my student loan,” she said, which has had to last since April. Her landlord has allowed her to pay only half of her rent, but she must move soon and will eventually have to pay back the rent that’s owed, putting her in debt.

  • Coronavirus: What does it mean if I’ve been furloughed by work?
  • Coronavirus: ‘My employer broke the furlough rules’

She works for another bar nearby, which pays more and which has put her on furlough of about £100 a month, but her rent is £750.

“It’s been stressful. It’s been very stressful.”

Troxy’s general manager Tom Sutton-Roberts told the BBC a “legacy system” was to blame for staff missing furlough, which arose “from the fact we were unable to offer any kind of regular hours and work in the early days of Troxy reopening as a venue”.

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London’s Troxy music venue is popular for live events and film screenings

Ms Millar Chambers was paid £8.50 an hour, which she feels is low for central London, she says.

“The government is doing a lot for a lot of people,” she said, but she feels workers like her are being left out.

Mr Sutton-Roberts said the venue “would love” to pay the London Living Wage, “but with our future so incredibly uncertain, it’s not something we can commit to today”.

“We are consulting with the entire team with how they would like to be engaged in the future,” he said.

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Claudia Tabares

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“I don’t speak English and how do you defend yourself in a situation like this?” asks cleaner Claudia Tabares

Claudia Lorena Tabares, who works six part-time cleaning jobs and earns the statutory minimum of £8.72 per hour, is another worker who lost out on some government support money, because she was not able to be furloughed part-time.

On 18 March, she was told she’d lose a 12.5-hour-a-week contract. She couldn’t be furloughed because of five hours of work she does for her employer Cleanology at another site.

Living wage support

Cleanology’s chief executive Dominic Ponniah told the BBC his company tried to furlough as many staff as possible, and that of 100 cleaners it initially dismissed after the firm lost contracts, it has been able to hire most back and furlough them.

However, to reallocate the work “administratively and operationally, it would have been almost impossible to coordinate in the short amount of time we had,” he said.

The company’s client had paid Ms Tabares’ wages up until the end of the contract on 1 June, he said, although she didn’t receive the money until 10 June.

HMRC, which administers the furlough scheme, has allowed firms to part-furlough staff since 1 July.

However, this change will not cover work and earnings lost by many workers in March, April, May or June.

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Ms Tabares’ union, United Voices of the World (UVW), told the BBC that “the furlough scheme depends on the good will of employers”.

“In many cases where members work across multiple sites on part time contracts to make ends meet, the furlough scheme has failed them.”

Ms Tabares says added pressures, such as having to give Cleanology £25 for her uniform, don’t help. The company says this is a deposit, and that while it encourages its clients to support the UK and London Living Wages of £9.30 and £10.75, less than half do so.

Minimum wages: a guide

  • The national minimum wage is the minimum hourly pay covering under-25s. It is set by the government and is £8.20 for 21 to 24-year-olds, £6.45 for 18 to 20-year-olds, £4.55 for under-18s and £4.15 for apprentices.
  • The national living wage is the minimum hourly pay for over-25s. It is also set by the government and is £8.72.
  • The real living wage is £10.75 per hour for London and £9.30 per hour for the rest of the UK. It is voluntary and calculated by the Living Wage Foundation based on living costs.

Another London-based cleaner, who didn’t want to be named, tells a similar story.

Clients left her employer as their offices and restaurants closed and her hours were thus reduced. Her bills, however, have not been.

“I felt like an idiot in this situation,” she said. “I always felt like the company would protect me.”

After her union stepped in, she was offered fresh work, but much of it was too far away, she told the BBC in Spanish through an interpreter.

A HM Treasury spokesperson said: “Our job retention scheme has so far protected more than nine million jobs – and has been extended until the end of October.

“As the economy re-opens, we will continue to look at how to adjust our support in a way that ensures people can get back to work, protecting both the UK economy and the livelihoods of people across the country.”

For Ms Millar Chambers, she is hoping a deal can be struck with her employers.

“We are hoping to be brought in-house, which will entitle us to have holiday pay and more rights as workers for the venue and sick pay, which is important,” she says.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is overseeing talks between Ms Millar Chambers and her fellow workers, with the Troxy, she added.

She stressed that she likes the flexibility, but would like at least a zero-hours contract, or one which would guarantee at least a few hours per week.