Drivers at Ferguson Transport and Shipping are calling on the company to furlough them as they struggle to survive on short-term working rates of £25 a day introduced at the firm as a result of falling workloads brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the government scheme, companies can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus National Insurance and pension contributions.
However the Fort William-based logistics company, which operates a fleet of 70 trucks and employs around 100 drivers, has postponed furloughing any drivers until the government issues more information on the scheme. More than 50% of Ferguson Transport drivers are on short-time working and are paid £25 a day when not working. Short-time working means they are entitled to a statutory guarantee payment for a maximum of five working days in a three-month period. Drivers who work a shift that pays more than £125 per shift forfeit the £25 daily payment for the rest of the week. Drivers who are shielding from COVID-19 on the advice of their doctors are on statutory sick pay, despite being eligible for furloughing.
Staff questioned why the company is not following other hauliers in the area furloughing some of its drivers. One driver told motortransport.co.uk: “We have bills to pay and families to feed. This is a struggle as we are now only getting £125 a week.”
Ferguson Transport MD Alasdair Ferguson defended his company’s strategy this week and said he will review the situation next week, when the government is expected to provide further details on furloughing and launch the furlough portal. He added: “Until then we are not prepared to jeopardise our company and jobs for our staff by agreeing to commit to paying 80% of wages without cast iron assurances this will be repaid and that furlough agreements allow us to be flexible enough to be able to provide the services required for our customers.”
Jonathon Backhouse, partner at transport law firm Backhouse Jones said: “We have taken hundreds of calls from businesses around the UK regarding how this scheme will work. Most businesses we speak to are furloughing their staff.” He warned that choosing not to furlough staff could cost companies more, since staff have to be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks. “Therefore the later a business decides to take advantage of the scheme, the nearer the end of the lockdown they get, meaning fewer employees will be furloughed long enough to enable the business to recover the 80% wages claim.”
An HMRC spokesman told us: “The furlough scheme is planned to launch on the 20 April, then payments to employers will come by the end of the month. We have tested it through a pilot with some businesses too. We have extensive information on availability in our GOV.UK guidance.” He added that companies will also be able to claim for payments to be made on a weekly basis under the scheme.