Unite, the UK’s leading union, has called on WREN Kitchens to guarantee that it will not misuse ‘intermittent’ furlough at its factories in Howden, Barton and Scunthorpe to slash staff holidays and annual leave costs.

The company has told workers it intends to impose a ‘rolling furlough’ in which staff work so many weeks and then stay home for a week under the job retention scheme. WREN’s factories and online consultations are still operating but the company’s retail outlets are shut during the lockdown. 

WREN factory staff were forced to take annual leave during the first period of the rolling furlough at the East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire sites, which began on February 1, with the government providing 80 per cent of wages and the company paying 20 per cent.

Employers can designate periods when staff must take holidays, provided that the relevant notice under law is provided. Annual leave can also be taken when workers are furloughed, as long as the employer tops up the government paid wages to the amount staff would normally receive if they had been working.

However, Unite has expressed concerns that WREN could continue to insist that staff use their holidays at the taxpayer’s expense during future periods of intermittent furlough.  

The use of furlough in such a manner could greatly reduce the company’s annual leave costs and limit the time staff can take off in the summer, when the lockdown is expected to have eased. This is because annual leave allocations, which the company usually pays all of, would have been used up during the weeks staff are forced to stay home. 

Such an approach could risk potential health and safety issues, if staff do not have any rest and relaxation time later in the year. Furthermore, staff could end up owing their employer money if they leave work before accruing the holiday pay taken up during periods of government funded furlough.   

Unite regional officer Mike Wilkinson said: “Unite is concerned WREN’s use of rolling furlough could result staff having to work right through the summer, when it is expected that the restrictions on moving around and socialising will have lessened. It could also result in the taxpayer footing substantial amounts of WREN’s annual leave costs.

“WREN must provide guarantees to its workforce that during the intermittent weeks when furlough is activated, staff will not be forced to take annual leave. WREN must make clear to staff that it understands that the job retention scheme is there to help retain jobs not for companies to misuse loopholes to take advantage of their workers.”

In March last year, Unite criticised WREN for sacking hundreds of workers at its retail outlets despite them being eligible to be registered under the job retention scheme. The workers were sacked for purportedly ‘underperforming’, however WREN also cited the economic impact of the coronavirus and invited to them to ‘reconnect with the company’ after the crisis. 

ENDS

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.