- 20 Mar 20
In a dramatic and hugely positive measure announced today, the U.K. government has committed to covering 80% of the salaries of workers, if companies keep them on their books, rather than laying them off.
The U.K. government has been reading Hot Press. Or if not, they are certainly behaving as if they have indeed been tuning in regularly!
Alright, we are being slightly tongue-in-cheek. But what we can say is that on Wednesday, we published an article here by Hot Press editor Niall Stokes, which advocated measures almost exactly similar to the far-reaching and highly progressive initiatives introduced today by the British government to help save jobs, in the face of the overwhelming impact of the coronavirus crisis.
In a piece which called on the Government to consider what the theme of solidarity, as rightly espoused by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in his speech to the nation earlier in the week, actually means, our Editor recommended that the Irish government should commit to paying 75% of the salaries of private sector workers, in order to prevent people losing their jobs.
It was what Niall dubbed 'the Danish model'.
“People in the private sector are currently looking down the barrel of a metaphorical gun,” Niall Stokes wrote. "So far there have been well over a hundred thousand lay-offs. And that number is increasing daily. If the Government doesn’t intervene, there will be carnage – from which individual workers and the companies for which they work alike may never recover.
"Right now, all over Ireland, decisions about the future are being taken,” he added. "Sales have dried up. Staff are being told that there is no money there to pay them. To stem the rise in the numbers of those being told they are being laid off – temporarily or otherwise – is imperative.”
Which is where the commitment by the Government, as advocated by Hot Press, should come in. A decision to pay 75% of people’s salaries would make all the difference, Niall argued, enabling companies to keep workers on their books, at least for an initial period of three months. The longer you delay, however, the harder it becomes to make an initiative of this kind work, as beleaguered companies are forced to act themselves, by cutting payroll costs.
So far there has been no response from the authorities here – though we do know that the article is being widely shared among interested groups.
However in London today, the U.K. government moved quickly, making a commitment of the kind recommended here, at the same time as they announced measures that will prevent many people from being able to go to work – including the closure of bars, clubs, venues and other public places.
It was the recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who made the dramatic announcement – one which will for now at least quell much of the anger that had been building in relation to handling of the Covid-19 crisis to date by the government of Boris Johnson (pictured).
The U.K. government has in fact committed to paying 80% of people’s salaries, up to as much as £2,500 a month – which is described in reports as just above the median wage in the UK. If it runs for three months, the measure will cost an estimated £78bn – on top of the £350bn plan announced during the week by the Government.
“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs," Sunak said. "We want to look back on this time and remember how in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together. It’s on all of us.”
The Chancellor addressed business leaders directly on behalf of the U.K. government.
“The government is doing its best to stand behind you,” he said. "And I’m asking you to do your best to stand behind our workers.”
The potential political ramifications of this on the island of Ireland are fascinating. The measure will apply in Northern Ireland – meaning that, right now, many of those living North of the border will be far better off for operating under British rule.
There is another interesting aspect to the development. Numerous workers currently cross the border in both directions to work. Those that live in the South, but work in the North, will be members of a hugely privileged class. On the other hand, those who work in the South and live in the North will find themselves highly disadvantaged compared to their neighbours and friends.
All things considered, it is a development which plays very badly for the Irish Government. It begs the question: should they not move very quickly now to equalise the treatment of workers in general on the island of Ireland?
Interestingly, that is a position that will almost certainly have to be adopted by Sinn Féin – though it is not one they have articulated to date. But if they do, it will leave the current caretaker incumbents looking bad in the eyes of workers across the country. And is that not what cost Fine Gael and Fianna Fail a huge number of seats in the recent General Election?
Certainly, the development reinforces the view that was espoused here on hotpress.com by Niall Stokes on Wednesday night. To make the commitment now might in fact save the Irish State a lot of money in the long run. Besides, the last thing we need is to look bad alongside a Government run by Boris Johnson.