THE threat of redundancy for catering assistants at two Wirral schools has been lifted after a u-turn by their employer.

Chartwells - who provide school meals at Bebington High and Weatherhead schools - had planned to make ten low-paid catering assistants redundant within a month, just three weeks before Christmas as its "business operations were not sustainable".

But, after a review of Government guidance, and pressure from Wirral UNISON, local MPs and the chief executive of one school affected by the plans, the proposal has now been scrapped in favour of the furlough scheme.

UNISON North West Regional Organiser Tony Caffery said: "We are delighted to hear that Chartwells have listened to us and will not now make ten dedicated catering workers redundant just before Christmas.

"The furlough scheme is designed for situations like this one and it is disappointing that Chartwells created so much distress for its own staff by initially threatening redundancy rather than making use of Government support.

"This U-Turn has been brought about by the determined school workers themselves, who have received vital support from local MPs, the Council Leader and CEO of the Co-op Academies Trust- we are grateful for their support.”

A Chartwells spokesperson said: "We appreciate that the past few weeks have been a difficult time for our employees at Bebington and Weatherhead schools.

"As a result of a significant reduction in volumes in relation to school meals, our business operations were not sustainable and we entered into a redundancy consultation with colleagues before the government announced the extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also knows as the furlough scheme).

"Over the past two weeks we have been reviewing the government guidance as well as the recent developments in relation to Covid-19 and their potential impact on our business.

"Following this review, we are pleased to confirm that we have now made the decision to use the furlough scheme, which means the planned restructuring has now been paused.

"We have informed our employees how we will use furlough going forward, in accordance with existing contract terms.

"We appreciate this has been an incredibly challenging time for those employees who are impacted by the ongoing uncertainty and are doing all that we can to support them.

"We have enhanced our employee assistance programme providing access to counselling and financial advice.

"Employees can also access our ‘Helping Hands’ fund for emergency finance. We would like to thank our employees for their ongoing commitment and professionalism during this time."