Lockdown easing delay adds pressure to HR

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The four-week delay in easing of lockdown restrictions in England to 19 July will be bittersweet for employers.

In the months ahead, any HR teams banking on a 21 June reopening of their business/aspects of it may be under more pressure particularly if they are reliant on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Joanne Frew, head of employment practice at legal business DWF, commented: "Business leaders' pleas to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme beyond 30 September 2021 following the delay in ending restrictions have been rejected to date. From 1 July 2021 employers will be required to contribute towards the cost of furloughed employees' wages.”

June’s labour market statistics from the Office National Statistics (ONS) have shown that jobs are recovering, with redundancy figures back at pre-pandemic levels, yet Frew warned that more may be on the horizon.

“The true test will be in September when the government lifeline of furlough is withdrawn, with hopeful anticipation that the two-month window of a restrictions free labour market will reduce the need for redundancies,” she said.

In its response to the ONS statistics, the CIPD felt optimistic of a strong recovery in some sectors, yet it advised employers to focus on the quality of opportunities rather than volume.

CIPD labour market economist Jonathan Boys said: “The struggle to find staff is a boon to some workers and a headache for some employers.

 “To fill vacancies and ensure a solid jobs recovery there should be a focus on better jobs, not just more jobs. Employers should look at job design and offer better terms including wages, training opportunities and benefits such as flexible working.”

Echoing Boys’ comment Sarah Loates, director at Loates HR Consultancy, told HR magazine that employers will need to consider new staff expectations as they plan their recovery.

“The taste of furlough and flexible working freedoms has resulted in employees adopting a ‘martini attitude’ to work on their terms,” she said.

"As we emerge from the cocoon of lockdown, homeworking, previously a discretionary benefit, has metamorphosed into a right in the mind of employees.”

While the delay in lifted restrictions may be a disappointment for some sectors, other employers have also expressed relief.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS membership organisation NHS Providers, said: “This has clearly been a difficult decision for the government but, from an NHS perspective, a cautious approach is prudent.

“A delay of four weeks will enable the NHS to do two important things. It will enable us to confirm the extent to which vaccines have broken the chain between infections and hospitalisations and deaths. And, crucially, it will enable us to vaccinate many more people with double doses and a period of protection build up.”

NHS trust leaders will welcome the decision he said, though they will also be mindful of the impact further restrictions will have.

He added: ”Vaccines will enable us to exit this current pandemic soon. But we must all understand that the virus will be with us for a long time yet. So our next task will be to discuss what the NHS, and we as a nation, need to do to live with the virus longer term. That debate has barely started.”