UK-based theatre companies Trafalgar Entertainment and Shaftesbury Theatre have been slated for refusing to place casual workers back on the government furlough scheme.
Earlier this month, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until the end of March 2021, with employees to receive up to 80 per cent of their salaries – up to £2,500 a month.
The news came as England went into its second lockdown until December to slow the spread of COVID-19. The scheme, which looked to be particularly beneficial to the live events industry, was originally set to run until October, but was extended to December 2.
However, casual staff working in London’s West End Shaftesbury Theatre will not be brought back on the scheme, while its permanent members will.
The Stage reports that one worker said this demonstrated a “lack of care” for the casual workers at the 1,400-capacity theatre.
Shaftesbury Theatre chief executive James Williams said, according to The Stage: “Sadly, the staff who were retained under the JRS scheme for almost eight months until the end of October, were dismissed ahead of the government announcement during the weekend of October 31.
“This was a considerable number of show-specific staff covering most departments. I believe we were the only West End theatre to retain such staff throughout the first JRS period – most others having dismissed their teams when the employer’s contributions increased.
“I do not think this shows a ‘lack of care’ rather the opposite.”
Meanwhile, The Stage also confirmed that Trafalgar Entertainment’s casual workers have not been placed back on the furlough scheme.
A worker at London Theatre Direct, which is a subsidiary of Trafalgar Entertainment, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Stage: “Had LTD re-employed us and put us on furlough until March, we may still have had jobs to go back to, as March might be a promising time for theatres to return.
“Instead myself and other colleagues were given a very heartless email reply saying they would not be doing so.
“To make anyone redundant just before Christmas is disgusting, but when the government is willing to help to pay for this, they should have put us back on the scheme so that we could benefit from the help. I’m still struggling to find a job at present and worry about my family’s finances during this difficult time.”
In addition, more than 600 people have signed a petition calling for the City of London Corporation, which owns London’s Barbican Centre, to top up the pay of casual staff to 100 per cent in line with permanent employees.
One worker who signed the petition said: “Given that a lot of us returned to public-facing duties and enabled the centre to reopen in a COVID-safe way, while bearing the infection risk and the wrath (at times) of non-compliant visitors, to now be denied a furlough top-up to 100% of our ‘living’ wages when permanent, non-public-facing staff on higher salaries are given this benefit is a massive kick in the teeth.”
A spokesman for the City of London Corporation responded: “Like all organisations COVID-19 has had a severe impact on our finances.
“It is with deep regret that we are having to make some difficult decisions to ensure our long-term future, but we are working hard to ensure all staff are supported during this pandemic.”