Covid-19 and self-employed workers in the green industry

by Blog

Green sector self-employed workers call on the government to take a fair approach and support all workers through the Covid-19 crisis. 

As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold many in the small scale building and renewable energy sector are concerned about their future work prospects and the lack of government support for those in this industry. 

For years many working in parts of the green industry have been self-employed or have owned micro businesses. These people are your local builders retrofitting energy efficiency measures into your home, window fitters, solar panel installers and onshore wind turbine engineers. They often undertake small scale jobs or are subcontracted in for larger jobs, constantly living with precarious work circumstances.

On Friday the Federation of Master Builders reported that 76% of small building projects have already been delayed or cancelled. Many small building firms and sole traders rely on a constant supply of work to remain solvent and have already had to make redundancies.

As small scale contractor Mark from Holmfirth points out

“All self-employed builders will be in the same boat – no work, no pay… We have customers wanting to put a stop to existing jobs and others wanting to postpone work, either way we will be off work soon.”

The government announced on Friday that they are covering 80% of employee wages, but this does not cover those self-employed. Crucially, this means a sixth of the UK workforce will have to find alternative work or be out of work.

As Tom a renewable engineer from Wales commented:

“The renewable industry is appalling for not valuing workers, I’ve been in a precarious self-employed work situation for four years and I’m tired of it. Lots of people I know have left the industry and with this crisis I don’t know what’s ahead for me. 

I’m really disheartened to see how divisive the government’s response has been. We really need to start valuing the green industry and supporting all workers in this crisis, not just those employed.”

When Mark was asked what support he’d like to see from the government he said: “It would be nice if the government would extend the same kind of support to self-employed as to employed workers i.e. 80 percent of earnings looking at previous levels, rather than slightly easier access to means-tested, complex benefits that take weeks to resolve.” 

As noted by Liam, another small contractor from Northwich, “it’s tax return time, so surely they could base the 80% income off that. We have that info ready to go!” 

We need these workers and this industry to meet the climate crisis, to retrofit our homes and work on green infrastructure. If self-employed workers and builders go bust and leave the industry, we will miss them as we come out of this crisis and start to wake up to the climate crisis looming ahead.

We call urgently on the government to make employment support fair across the board, whether you are self-employed, a business or a precarious worker. 

And for those of you who have been thinking about retrofitting your homes, it’s worth considering that borrowing rates are currently very low. Now may be the time to start working on these plans and making arrangements with builders. Do get in touch if you are looking for advice and support to plan these works. 

As a society, we need to value these workers and the green industry. And as homeowners considering retrofit works, make sure our local green industry knows we will be there for them with jobs when the pandemic loosens its grip.

Other actions you can take today – sign this petition calling on the government to pay self-employed workers 80% of their median salary.