A shocking 30,000 Scottish hospitality workers have lost their jobs in just two weeks as a result of coronavirus, it has been claimed.
Lack of clarity from the Government on its Job Retention Scheme to pay 80 per cent of wages and “unscrupulous employers” have been blamed for the mass layoffs.
Bryan Simpson, who represents thousands of bar, restaurant and catering workers for Unite the Union, said: “We’ve been working flat-out to support our members and, in many cases, companies have been convinced to think again about letting people go, in the face of pressure from their workforce and legal action.
“We’re clear that to dismiss your workforce en masse, despite their being a Job Retention Scheme to cover 80 per cent of wages, may be regarded as unfair dismissal and we’ll be supporting our members to get justice.
“But a combination of opportunism from unscrupulous employers and a lack of clarity from the Government has cost upwards of 30,000 jobs in the industry in the last fortnight alone.
“Many of those who have been terminated prematurely will have been be on very low pay and without permanent contracts.
“It’s great that financial support packages are being put in place but we need to see these rolled out much faster because, with every hour that passes, livelihoods are being lost.”
Meanwhile, a union leader has warned that Covid-19 could wipe out “hundreds of thousands” of Scottish jobs and sound the death knell for the North Sea energy industry.
GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith, who represents thousands of oil and gas workers, said: “The economic meltdown is not something that’s going to happen, it has happened already – it is done.
“This disease has found the weaknesses in individuals but also the deficiencies in our businesses and whole economy.
“Thousands of jobs have been lost and hundreds of thousands are at critical risk – there’s no doubt about that. We’ll fight for them but what we also need to be thinking about now is the recovery and what that might look like.
“There’s a debate about whether wartime analogies are fair but they do ring true.
“During the war, the Government was already looking at a plan for after it ended and we need to look at what we’re going to be doing in the near future because the world is never going to be the same.”
Smith warned that the North Sea oil and gas industry – a key sector of Scotland’s economy – could be devastated.
He added: “The North Sea is now in real danger of being wound up in the next few years.
“We’ve probably got, realistically, 15billion barrels of oil left and the danger is we only get six of that out because the collapse in oil prices just makes it uneconomic.
Demand has fallen off the edge of a cliff and the Scottish and UK governments need to have a real discussion about this.
“The significant players don’t want to be in the North Sea any more because they can get a bigger return in Angola or Brazil and this is going to accelerate that process of disinvestment.
"So you’re going to see assets getting sweated – this means deteriorating maintenance and upkeep as profits are squeezed out in the short term.
“Holyrood and Westminster need to see North Sea oil and gas as a national resource rather than something exploited for dividends.
“If not, you’ll see smaller companies coming in that will take out profit before going bust and leaving decommissioning costs back with the taxpayer.”
The North Sea sector has already been hollowed out by the 2014-16 oil price slump, falling from a peak of nearly 500,000 employed to 315,000 at the end of last year.
While tens of thousands of those workers are directly employed in production, the bulk are linked through the supply chain and services such as hotels and restaurants.
Smith also called for key workers fighting coronavirus to receive government payouts over and above their salaries. He added: “Last week, we told the Government that there needs to be a key worker allowance through this crisis.
“Going forward, there needs to be a fundamental debate about how these services are funded and what people doing them earn in the future.”
Professor Graeme Roy, head of economics and director of the Fraser of Allander Institute think tank, has also warned that the economy may not be able to just “bounce back”.
He said: “This is unprecedented in terms of the scale of the shock to the economy.
“Essentially, the Government is telling all non-essential parts of our economy to stop working for weeks and potentially longer to combat a public health emergency.
“So we’ll see huge falls in output as the economy essentially goes into hibernation.
“Against that, the Government is trying to say this emergency will pass and we will be able to bounce back in the future because,
fundamentally, there is nothing wrong.
"So they are trying to provide a bridge for people by providing them with their salaries and incomes until the economy starts motoring again.
“An economist will say that is fine up to a point but we do know that, if you shut down the economy and people lose their jobs, it doesn’t just automatically bounce back.
“It takes time for people to find work, businesses can’t always start up again, some restaurants and shops will just never open up again.
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“It’s not like this came as a complete surprise – a pandemic had been considered a risk for a long time – but despite that, we appear to have been very unprepared for it.
“An unknown question is also how long the Government can continue propping up the economy.
“What happens if this lasts into July and August? The level of debt and borrowing that the Government is getting into is vast so, when you come out of it, how do you pay for it all?
“Clearly, there are implications for inflation and price rises in all that.
“Unemployment will go up significantly. The question is how quickly it can fall again.
“And what happens when the Government withdraws support for companies? How do you unwind that support? It’s going to be very difficult.
“There are going to be plenty of companies that will be saying, ‘If you withdraw this support now, I am gone’.”