Law Centre NI has welcomed recent announcements from the UK Treasury and Northern Ireland Executive on support for workers but says concerns remain that employees may be confused about their employment rights given the divergence in guidance. The comments come after a busy week when the UK Prime Minister announced the relaxing of rules in England, the NI Executive published its pathway to recovery and the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the extension of the UK government’s furlough scheme.
Commenting on the announcements, employment policy officer, Jack Gibson said: “We want to welcome the Executive’s commitment to ‘enhancing messaging around what is permissible in terms of work’. However, we continue have a real concern that workers are now more confused about their rights as a result of the UK Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday 10th May. We are also concerned that employers are starting to put additional pressure on their staff to return to work as a result.
“We want to reiterate that the advice for workers in Northern Ireland remains the same - stay at home where possible. The UK Prime Minister’s statement last week was only in relation to England, and the NI Executive’s pathway to recovery is just that – a pathway towards future change. There has been no change to the current guidance for workers and employers in Northern Ireland.
“Our legal advice line has encountered a number of key trends recently, one of which has been an increase in the number of people being taken off furlough and being asked to return to work. There is a real worry this is happening because employers in Northern Ireland are uncertain of the guidance in light of the Prime Minister’s statement.
“It is clear that both workers and employers are not always aware of the rules. We are very worried that this confusion is having a detrimental impact on workers’ rights at this time.
“We continue to urge anyone who is unsure about their employment rights around Coronavirus (COVID-19) to contact our legal advice team on (028) 9024 4401 for free advice.”
Jack Gibson continued: “We also want to welcome the announcement by the UK Chancellor that the government furlough scheme will be extended to October. We await further information on how it will function beyond July but in the meantime it provides some assurances to workers.”