Who is going to pay for public sector contingent workers?

There has continued to be much discussion this week regarding the interaction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and umbrella employers.  However, many are forgetting that there is a more fundamental question as to whether contingent workers within the public sector are even eligible for the job retention scheme in itself.

The reason for questioning public sector eligibility for the CJRS is due to guidance issued by the cabinet office which suggests that public sector contingent workers who are now unable to work due to coronavirus, should continue to be paid by the public sector. This is the relevant extract of the guidance which seems very clear on this point:

“If Contingent Workers are unable to work due to COVID-19, for example, due to sickness, self-isolation, or the temporary closure of offices, they should be paid at 80% of their pay rate up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. This should be backdated to 1 March 2020 if necessary, and will be available initially for at least 3 months.”

This appears to be very similar to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, except that the usual payment chain is followed rather than workers’ pay being reclaimed from HMRC at a later date. In essence, the public sector client should continue to pay their contingent workers, whether directly or through recruitment businesses or umbrella employers. Arguably the public sector scheme is therefore far simpler to implement as it is just business as usual in procurement terms, rather than requiring the supply chain to determine whether workers are eligible for furlough.

However we are aware that there is some confusion in relation to the cabinet office guidance, with some public sector bodies being unaware of it, or believing that it is not applicable to them, or in some cases simply not taking responsibility for the contingent workers at all.

In practical terms this means that many thousands of public sector workers are currently without the financial support that they desperately need at this time, and this is unforgiveable. In particular, we are concerned about the impact on the health and allied professionals for obvious reasons right now, as well as teaching and other sectors that are heavily reliant on contingent workers. We need to support all of our public sector workers at this time, which is why we are doing all we can to raise awareness of the procurement guidance.

Furthermore, if implemented properly this public sector guidance should avoid any delays in paying public sector workers, which may otherwise be incurred through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

So my message to all public sector engagers of contingent workers is to urge them to use the public sector scheme, to invest in their whole workforce and ensure that everyone is able to do their bit at this unprecedented time.

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