Two months ago being ‘furloughed’ wasn’t even a thing. A word that no one knew the meaning of, or cared to know the meaning of. Of course Coronavirus was very evident in many parts of the world two months ago, but in the UK we were still living our daily lives, socialising with friends and family, working, going on holidays etc. Life was normal. 

Three weeks and two days ago, before the country had officially resorted to being in ‘lockdown’ but social distancing was now a thing, I got a phone call from my manager at Burton stating that ‘at 4pm all shops will be closed for the foreseeable future’. At the time furlough still wasn’t a word I was completely associated with, but I was told that I would be paid for a further two weeks from Arcadia. Two weeks later, I received an email from Arcadia, as the company was officially taking advantage of the Government’s furloughing scheme. 

So what is ‘furlough’? 

Furlough by definition means the temporary leave of absence, either due to economic conditions of the company or as the country as a whole. However, the UK government has temporarily introduced furlough leave as a way for employers to keep employees on the payroll while staff are not working, and hence employees are therefore not laid off or made redundant. 

Sounds fair especially for the small businesses that will be obviously struggling because of Covid-19. However, what about the billionaires and multi-millionaires who are using the scheme when they could easily invest their own money into the company, but don’t because they would rather use tax-payers money to keep more money in their pockets. 

Burton Menswear is part of the Arcadia group owned by the notorious billionaire Sir Philip Green. Over the years Green has been involved in a number of incidents that haven’t exactly helped his image. From selling BHS for £1 in 2015, to axsing a feminist book display in Topshop’ Oxford Circus store. 

I’ve been working for Burton Menswear since August 2014, when I came in as a fresh faced 17 year old excited about earning money and getting 25% discount off at Topshop, which was much better than my paper round earnings of £17.50 a week. I loved it.

In the last 6 years I have seen a lot of staff go, with myself included because of university, but I am now back working in the same store that I began in nearly 6 years. In that time I have never once had a bonus, my pay has always been the minimum wage for a 21 year old, and if I want staff discount then I have to have a credit card which is just a joke in itself (just fyi, Topshop & Topman don’t have a credit card they have a POS card or something similar, so they don’t have to get into debt for wanting discount). Now this has nothing to do with my store manager or area manager, but it kinda pisses you off when you see the CEO of the company you work for flashing around on his yacht, while you once in a blue moon get 40% off at all the stores for a three day weekend. 

Now Green is worth $4.9bn (US – 2018), yet finds it completely acceptable to furlough his staff. I mean I still would like a job at the end of all of this, but I am only on a four hour contract, which means if I just do my contracted hours I earn on average £125 a month – pretty pointless. A Lot of the contracts at my store are pretty low as well.

Being furloughed for me, simply means I have extra time to do university work, not be spoken to like shit by customers, and my Sunday’s aren’t spent tag checking or doing delivery. Don’t get me wrong I have quite enjoyed not going into work, but what annoys me the most about this situation is the way that Green has treated his staff, and I have decided that I might never shop in Topshop, Miss Selfridge or DP ever again. I don’t care about the discount, I care about the way he thinks he can treat his staff. 

This is such a strange time that we live in, and never a situation I ever imagined living in either. 

Over the years I have been grateful for my little four hour a week job. It has gotten me through university, and pays for my train fare to London for my masters. During the time I have also fallen out of love with fashion, and fallen again for it, and I have also spent money on clothes that I don’t really need or want. 

You don’t realise that you are working for a billionaire who couldn’t give a flying crap about his employees until something like this happens. Now I am not planning to work in retail or Burton’s for my whole life, in fact I had already decided when I was going to leave anyway to hopefully start a career in sport (whether that maybe partnerships, media, marketing, communications) and concentrate on my masters dissertation, but this situation has made my mind up. I may never work a day in retail again, but my staff card still needs paying off so I guess that’s more money going into his hands while he decides to take advantage of the Government’s scheme to help the companies that need the help the most. 

Have you been furloughed, and if so what are your thoughts?

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