Third of furloughed UK workers return to work in early July

FILE PHOTO: A waiter poses for photographs as he waits for customers outside a restaurant, after it reopened following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, July 5, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – Roughly one in three furloughed workers in Britain returned to their jobs in the first two weeks of July as the hospitality industry began to reopen to the public after a coronavirus lockdown, official data showed on Thursday.

Businesses surveyed between June 29 and July 12 said 7% of their staff had returned from furlough within the past two weeks, while 17% remained on leave on a government-funded programme which pays 80% of their salaries.

Britain’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has paid the wages of more than 9 million staff – about a third of the private sector workforce – but is due to end in October, prompting forecasts of a big rise in unemployment.

Thursday’s data showed big differences between sectors. More than 90% of staff in sectors such as water treatment or information technology were working, but only around half of staff in hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Businesses such as hotels and restaurants, which only came out of lockdown on July 4, and still face social distancing rules, have seen the biggest increase in the proportion of staff returning to work.

Some 18% of hotel and food service workers restarted their jobs in the two weeks running up to the survey period, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said.

However one in eight businesses in this sector said they had no plans to reopen within the next couple of weeks, rising to three in 10 arts and entertainment venues.

Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Estelle Shirbon and Andy Bruce

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