Ferguson Transport and Shipping has furloughed 26 drivers and 14 staff following the launch of the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme portal this week, after being reassured payments for furloughed workers will arrive in the company's bank account within six days of a claim being submitted online.

However, MD Alasdair Ferguson is calling for the government's furlough scheme to be more flexible so that hauliers are able to call on furloughed staff intermittently to meet fluctuating demand from customers.

Under the government scheme, companies can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus National Insurance and pension contributions.

The Fort William-based logistics company, which operates a fleet of 70 trucks and employs 200 staff, of which around 100 are drivers, had postponed furloughing any drivers until the government issued more information on the scheme as it wanted to establish how quickly the government’s 80% contribution would be paid and how flexible the scheme would be to meet customer demands.

Instead the company had been sharing the reduced workloads between its drivers and giving them a payment of £25 per day if there was no shift available, their weekly basic hours were not met and they were at home on short-time working.

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It has now placed 26 drivers on furlough but Ferguson is still concerned that the company has no way of calling them in if customer demand increases or if other drivers go sick, as each period of furlough is for a minimum of three weeks.

He said: "We had always intended to furlough further to agreements being reached with our drivers for the changes and understanding the exact details, eligibility of the grant scheme and the terms on which they would be applied.

“We need the scheme to work for the logistics sector. Companies need cash quickly to support the employee retention scheme for cash flow - the flexibility to furlough drivers weekly to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to ever changing customers’ requirements for essential deliveries.”

Ferguson’s concerns are echoed by the RHA, which this week called on the government to make furloughing more flexible.

In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson (see Read More), which sets out a number of concerns, the RHA, along with five other logistics associations, asked for the minimum furlough to be a week rather than the current three weeks, to increase flexibility in the haulage sector, reduce costs and ensure staff remain available.

RHA MD of policy Rod McKenzie told motortransport.co.uk: “We have always called for flexibility of the furlough scheme. Currently it is not fit for purpose and simply not flexible enough to suit operators’ needs.”