In an excerpt of a letter to Bacta members, CEO John White asks all members to ensure their local politicians understand the gravity of the global pandemic for the sector, while advising businesses on how to manage staffing issues throughout the coming weeks and months.
Cancelling the national council meeting to conform to social distancing recommendations, Bacta CEO John White is sending some advice of his own to the government: take drastic actions to protect vulnerable industries, or risk losing them altogether.
Concerns over the potential spread of the Coronavirus reached new heights this weekend, sparking fears not just of rising death tolls – but also of the potentially devastating impact on small to medium-sized businesses. The industry is under serious threat from the global health pandemic caused by Coronavirus, according to the Bacta CEO.
While last week’s Budget 2020 promised an investment in infrastructure at the seaside, White stated that the amusements industry first needs support from the government to ensure it is alive to see it. Prime minister Boris Johnson has now recommended that the British public avoid pubs, clubs and social venues, and for most people, AGCs, bingo and FECs come under the latter category.
“The impact on our industry could be cataclysmic,” said White. “Operators get very little income over the winter, and then they’ve got to spend on machines and all the rest of it to get geared up ready for Easter, their first proper cash injection. That’s now unlikely to happen with Coronavirus and the potential for shutdown, which could continue for months.”
Indeed, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’, but ‘how long’. Easter is one thing, but if the public stays away from amusements for an entire summer, cash flow would soon become a huge problem for many of the industry’s operators. In which case, White argues, the government must do more.
“I would expect most of the public will stay at home and wait for it all to go away, but nobody can really predict it,” continued White. “I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not then the measures from the government, as welcome as they are, are nowhere near enough – particularly in our sector. It’s a real cash flow issue, they’ve had no cash coming in through winter and if nobody comes in easter, and nobody comes in summer, they’ve still got to pay their bills – rates, VAT returns, everything has to be paid, but there’s no cash.”
And so, Bacta has written to it s members about what needs to be done.
Bacta members: What you can do
“It is really important that politicians fully understand the impact of this crisis and the impact of the Government’s response on your businesses. Telephone, write, or email your MP and make it absolutely clear that without support your business and those in our sector will not survive. Please ask for the measures mentioned above to be implemented as a matter of urgency. Please copy me in with any correspondence. Also please keep them and me informed of how any measures the Government announces has landed within your business. I need to feed this into Government on a regular basis.
Your staff will also be worried not only about the health implications of coronavirus, but also the potential impact on their jobs. I know members will want to look after their staff as best they can. Government has suggested that face to face meetings be switched to conference calls and that people work from home where they can. This will not be an option for many. It is suggested if people do have to come to work they avoid public transport if they can and that they stagger their travel times and work hours. Advice to regularly wash hands should be emphasised.
Unfortunately, wages will be one of the costs that businesses will have to review. I have taken advice on what measures can and cannot be taken to reduce your wage costs in a way which is legal, fair and reasonable to you and your staff. In the financial crisis for example conversations with staff enabled many businesses to share the pain of that crisis with staff taking wage cuts in order to keep their jobs. It is likely many businesses will need to have similar conversations over the coming weeks. A very brief summary is set out below:
• You can send people home with no pay or reduced hours only if the employment contract allows for this.
• Otherwise, you have to reach an agreement to send people home on no pay. The employee has to agree.
• If you want to reduce hours you can do this via consultation and giving notice. The same amount of notice as if you were terminating employment.
• You cannot send someone home sick if they are not. It is for the employee to decide if they are sick. If the employer sends them home this is effectively a suspension and should be paid.
• Staff can be asked/required to take holiday if it is paid leave. You cannot force them to take unpaid holiday.
• You can dismiss staff with less than 2 years’ service without risk of an unfair dismissal claim as long as you give paid notice.
This is a deeply troubling time for us all. Bacta will continue to fight for this industry’s interests.