Prospect digs deep for archaeologists

Prospect digs deep for archaeologists

Prospect issued updated advice for its members in archaeology on 29 March.

  • 01 Apr 2020

The advice covers:

  • the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • CJRS – fixed-term and zero hours contracts
  • Self-employment Income Support Scheme
  • recruiting your colleagues
  • how to amend your contact details
  • keeping updated.

Safety where site work was continuing was still a major union concern, but many sites have closed and employers are already raising the issue of furloughing staff under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), said Prospect negotiator Andy Bye.

On self-employed members concerned about the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), Prospect and the Trades Union Congress are lobbying hard to get the UK government to provide clear information and guidance on the support available for all workers and businesses.

A key union objective will be to ensure that government puts support in place for any workers who may not be covered by the CJRS or the SEISS.

The Scottish TUC and the Scottish Government have agreed a joint statement on fair work principles during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bye pointed out that although there is a lot of information online about furloughing and the CJRS and the SEISS, there is a great deal of confusion and many unanswered questions.

“In my view the key information that we can rely on comes from the GOV.UK website. Members should consider signing up for government email alerts via this page.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The CJRS will cover 80% of monthly earnings, up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

If you were made redundant after 28 February 2020, your employer can agree to re-employ you and place you on furlough instead. Any member in this position can email Andy for further advice and support.

Prospect’s view is that all employers should seek an individual written agreement with staff who are to be furloughed.

This change of status cannot be imposed unilaterally by an employer. Where agreement is reached, individuals will be covered by the terms of the CJRS.

Prospect will be engaging with the archaeology employers that formally recognise the union to ensure that any offer made to staff is clear and concise so that individuals can make informed choices.

The union will be urging other employers to do the same via the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) and the Archaeology Industry Working Group.

Bye said it was vital that anyone trying to make a decision about being furloughed has full written details about a number of issues including:

  • When exactly will the furloughed period begin and end?
  • Will the employer pay you anything before they receive money from the government under the terms of the CJRS?
  • What assurances can the employer give that it has the necessary funds to be able to pay you before they receive support from the government?
  • What exactly will the employer pay you and when will payments be made?
  • If furloughed status is not accepted by the employee, what exactly is the employer proposing to do?

You can find government advice at these links:

“If you have not done so already, you should read everything available via the above links and GOV.UK in order to prepare for any discussions or exchanges with your employer on this.”

If there is no work for you to do (on site, in the office or from home) in the coming weeks, and taking leave or using up TOIL is not an option, it is likely that your employer will want to do one of two things:

  • apply the lay-off/short-time working clause that is in many archaeology contracts of employment
    • seek your agreement so that you can be covered by the CJRS as quickly as possible.

Bye said: “My immediate concern in relation to staff agreeing to be covered by the CJRS is that some archaeology employers may have real difficulties finding the funds to pay anything to their staff before they receive the money payable by the government under the CJRS.

“The online service employers will use to claim money from the government may not be available until the end of April 2020.

“Some employers may not be able to pay anything to their furloughed staff until May. Employees who cannot afford to bridge this gap themselves may face real difficulties.

“As far as I am aware, anyone who agrees to be covered by the CJRS will only be able to do paid work for their employer in very limited circumstances. They may not be entitled to claim benefits, such as universal credit, while they wait for CJRS payments.

“Given the potential impact of delays in making CJRS payments, some members may feel that it will be better for them to be laid off, as per the terms of some employment contracts.

“They would then receive the small amounts of guarantee pay that are payable to laid off staff. They may be able to seek alternative work while they are laid off; they may be able to claim benefits and, if the lay-off continues for an extended period of time, may be able to claim a redundancy payment from the employer.”

Members can find more detail about this here.

Andy regretted that it is impossible for him to give members specific advice because they will need to:
• take account of their own personal circumstances
• see if they can find out about the employer’s current financial resources
• establish the chances of work on site continuing, or restarting, safely in the coming weeks.

CJRS – Fixed-term and zero hours contracts

Another key issue will be how employers deal with staff who have been engaged on a series of fixed-terms contracts, or on a zero hours basis.

Such staff may have been paid intermittently under PAYE arrangements and via the employer’s payroll system. A member paid in this way may have had, for example, contracts/work with the same employer for a few months in 2019, two weeks in January 2020 and final period of work from, say, 2 March to 20 March 2020.

Bye’s view is that someone in these circumstances could be furloughed and covered by the CJRS, even if they have not done any work for the employer since 1 March 2020.

The key criterion appears to be whether an individual was on the employer’s payroll system on 28 February 2020, not whether the employee was actually paid in February or March 2020.

Members in these circumstances may wish to approach the employer/s they have worked for to explore whether they are willing to agree to that you can be furloughed.

Please email Andy if you need further advice and support on this.

CJRS – conclusion

Bye strongly advised members who are thinking of accepting a move to furloughed status to carefully consider all available options and the written offer that they should receive from their employer.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme

The position for self-employed workers is not so complex, but again there are more questions than answers.

A number of different criteria must be met to be eligible for a grant. In brief, your self-employed trading profits must be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income must come from self-employment.

The SEISS is not yet operational but HMRC is urgently working to deliver the scheme and will use their existing records to check potential eligibility.

They will invite applications once the scheme is operational. It is expected that grants will start to be paid by the beginning of June 2020. In the interim, self-employed members will still be eligible for other government support including more generous universal credit and business continuity loans.

You can find details at these links:

You can read Prospect’s reaction to the SEISS here.

Recruit your colleagues

The archaeology branch now has 1,000 members – up from less than 500 at the end of 2016. The growth in membership is the result of the hard work of the dedicated Prospect representatives in archaeology.

However, surveys of people who are not union members regularly show that the main reason they are not members is the simple fact that they have not been asked to join!

Continuing to build our membership in archaeology will strengthen Prospect’s voice on sites, with employers, in the industry and nationally.

“I would encourage all members to forward this update to non-members – but ask them to join the union first!

If every existing member recruited one new member this week, we would have 2,000 members next week!!

New members can join Prospect online

For every new member that you recruit, you will receive £10 – either as a shopping voucher or a donation to charity. Find out more here.

Your email address

Please remember to keep the contact information that the union uses to stay in touch with you up-to-date. You may wish to change your registered email address from your work one to a home address for ease of access in the coming weeks.

You can do this via the members’ area of the Prospect website or by calling the union on 0300 600 1878 anytime between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Keeping updated

The union will be trying to keep all members as up-to-date as possible via: