Back in February, the CCMA was invited to engage with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Since then we have been a voice for the contact centre industry participating in bi-weekly calls regarding the industry’s response to COVID-19.
These calls take place with Minister Nadhim Zahawi from the Department of BEIS and occasionally the Secretary of State Alok Sharma. We are joined by representatives from other professional and business services organisations including ICAEW, The Law Society, McKinsey, Deloitte, PWC, Accenture and RIBA.
The aim of the calls is to feedback straight to the heart of government how businesses are responding to the coronavirus and the measures the government is implementing so that the government can respond to business appropriately. It is a real opportunity to put forward key concerns from our industry and to influence government policy and their ongoing agenda.
Here are some of the outputs from the calls that affect the contact centre industry:
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS)
Several questions were raised to gain further clarification on this initiative, and this is the response from the Minister:
- Could the furlough scheme be more flexible to enable part time work? To be eligible for the grant, when on furlough an employee cannot undertake work for or on behalf of the organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue. Employers are free to consider allocating any critical business tasks to staff that are not furloughed.
- Can employees be furloughed longer than three weeks? Employees can be furloughed multiple times, but each separate instance much be for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks.
- Can firms initiate redundancy discussions while staff are on furlough? An employer can make an employee redundant while furloughed. Normal redundancy rules and protections will apply.
- When will businesses receive reimbursements from the furlough scheme? The online portal opens on 20 April with first payments being made on 30 April.
Immigration and Right to Work Checks
The Home Office announced a freeze on all visa processing for at least six weeks. With some contact centres having to expand quickly, existing processes can slow this expansion down.
Since 30 March 2020, Right to Work checks have been temporarily adjusted to make it easier for employers to carry them out during the coronavirus outbreak. Until further notice, employers do not need to see original documents and can complete Right to Work checks over video calls.
Prospective employees are now able to submit scanned documents, rather than originals to show that they have the right to work. If prospective or existing colleagues cannot provide any of the accepted documents, employers should use the Employer Checking Service.
Further questions regarding travel restrictions and visa extensions were posed regarding individuals unable to leave or return to the UK; the Minister advised that further conversations were taking place with the Home office on this issue.
Digital infrastructure to support homeworking
On the call a couple of weeks ago, we raised the challenge of ensuring homeworkers have access to sufficient bandwidth to do their jobs. The Minister advised that this is an issue that has been raised with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and that for now broadband providers have removed caps on broadband packages to allow for unlimited data.
If you have any specific challenges on the national digital infrastructure, please email us so that we can continue to feed this back.
Although there are issues that need addressing in the near term, many on the call are looking forward. It remains important to keep an eye on the horizon and consider the measures government could be thinking about now to support a surge of confidence at the right time, when the crisis abates, be it fiscal, monetary or other domestic policy interventions.
The response from the Minister just before Easter was that the government was currently focused on the response to COVID-19 but recognises the need to look at how they can support the economy post crisis and welcomes the opportunity to work with the group to understand views on how this could happen.
Mindful of the migration to working remotely, the CCMA asked the Minister to consider reviewing all laws and regulations relating to working practices to enable homeworking to be a mainstream option for all. This would need to cover all aspects of working from HR policies, childcare and use of technology, to tax implications and much more.
Get your voice heard
The CCMA has been listening to the challenges that the industry has been experiencing through its bi-weekly calls with the Special Interest Groups. However, some of you may have read this article and want to raise your voice further. If you’re interested in sharing your views with the CCMA in order to get your voice heard by government, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a call.