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Furlough at the University of Birmingham

What does “furlough” mean?

In UK employment law, “furlough” is a new employment status introduced as part of the Coronavirus pandemic. If you are furloughed:

  • You cannot do any work for your employer (though you can take part in training and volunteer, as long as it doesn’t generate income for your employer).
  • Your employer can claim back 80% of your salary from the government. Some employers, such as the University, have committed to topping this up to 100% of pay.
  • The change in employment status must last at least 3 weeks.

More information about furlough can be found on the Government website.

The University scheme

The University have confirmed that they will be looking to make use of the scheme. Initially the University wants to use the scheme for employees within Campus services (previously known as “HAS”) who are currently unable to work – this will include staff in cleaning services as well as catering.The University also wants to ensure that any post included in the application is not “publicly funded” (though unions disagree about their basis for arguing this and continue to argue in negotiations that a broader approach looking at the University’s funding as a whole makes more sense). 

Staff will be contacted by phone initially (if possible) and this will be followed by a letter confirming that you have been selected for furlough. The letter will include details of how to raise any concerns with the change of status.

As described above, you will continue to receive 100% of your normal salary and cannot do any work for the University until furlough ends.  

During consultation UNISON and the other campus trade unions have  also secured the following:

  • Reassurance that furlough will not put anyone’s job security at risk, and that they will be treated the same as any member of staff who stayed in work in any future restructure 
  • Five working days notice before being required to return to work.

UNISON and other unions retain concerns about the University’s interpretation of the scheme for reasons explored in more detail below. Despite this our advice to staff within campus services is that in most cases being furloughed will not represent a detriment, unless you are likely to secure additional income from remaining in work (i.e. if you are still currently receiving income from overtime or on call allowances).

Please speak to your UNISON rep if you need individual advice – particularly if you rely on additional hours//overtime for a large portion of your income.

Union position

While negotiations are ongoing, UNISON and other campus trade unions are urging the University to make a broader use of the furlough scheme and in particular to use it to protect the jobs of staff on fixed term contracts, and to continue paying casual and agency staff. Staff are already losing their jobs as fixed term contracts expire, and the opportunities of finding replacement work at this time are limited. The furlough scheme is clearly designed to protect people who would otherwise lose their jobs, and it isn’t acceptable for people to lose their jobs now while there are still two months of government funding available to keep them in work. 

We are also negotiating with the University about staff who have received large amounts of income from regular overtime over a number of months – while the University is unwilling to include this additional income in its application, we have started discussions about compensating some staff for lost income in certain situations.

Further information and advice

If you have any concerns at all please contact us on unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk or 07709 583846

The following links and resources might also be useful:

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