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The government remains resolute in its aim to end the furlough scheme next month, despite the Unite union now joining calls for it to be extended.

As we enter the autumn months and are starting to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, many questions are being asked over what the next couple of weeks will mean for the UK. For example, could we see a second lockdown, something the government has been desperate to avoid ever since the original lockdown started to be lifted earlier in the summer? Whilst we wait for more clarity, one thing seems to remain certain; the Job Retention Scheme, instrumental in helping to maintain jobs throughout the coronavirus pandemic, comes to an end on 31 October.

Now the Unite union is warning of a ‘miserable Christmas’ for workers if the furlough scheme is ended as planned. They are calling for a ‘clear and urgent sign’ from the government that it is considering, and will respond to, continued calls to extend the scheme in some shape or form. This only forms part of the growing fear that the winter of 2020, already a year that has seen much hardship for the UK workforce, will see substantial numbers of people losing their jobs if further action is not taken.

Unite’s fears have been shared by many over recent weeks, with the industry group CBI, and Labour leader Kier Starmer, calling for a replacement to the furlough scheme to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ scenario next month.  Interestingly, however, not all seem to share this call, with James Reed, chairman of the recruitment firm Reed, instead arguing the country should ‘move on’ from the scheme and that people should be allowed to ‘learn new skills and begin searching for a new employer’.

There is no doubt that the Job Retention Scheme has been a substantially expensive venture, having costed £35bn thus far and still being significantly used across the UK by organisations. Despite numerous calls to extend it, and indeed other European countries such as France and Spain having already prolonged their own coronavirus business assistance schemes, there is still no word from the government that this will happen. When asked this question last week, the prime minister remained adamant that furlough will end next month in its entirety.

As organisations now face the very real prospect of losing the support of the Job Retention Scheme, it is crucial they start to plan ahead. Whilst redundancies may seem like an obvious solution to saving costs, they should consider if taking such an action is the only option. If it is, they should remember the rules surrounding a fair redundancy procedure and make sure they are fully familiar with what they need to do.

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