Aquatic trade body OATA is asking the Government to clarify whether furloughed staff can volunteer to care for aquatic livestock while ‘off work’.
In a letter to the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association asks for the position to be clarified due to the additional complexity for its members of caring for huge numbers of fish and other aquatic livestock.
The letter from OATA chief executive Dominic Whitmee makes the case that many aquatic businesses are small to medium-sized or even micro-businesses, which have, of necessity, needed to furlough staff during the coronavirus crisis.
For many of these the owner is the sole proprietor and, as reported in the April issue of Pbwnews, they are being rushed off their feet trying to cope with welfare issues on their own.
Dominic writes: “This has meant that for many, the owner is now the sole provider of day-to-day care to meet the animal welfare needs of the many hundreds or indeed thousands of aquatic animals in their care.
“The provision of such care requires specialised knowledge and cannot be undertaken by a non-skilled person. This is a substantial task for an individual and may not even be practicable in stores where there are a large number of aquariums. It may become unfeasible if the owner should have to self-isolate.”
He goes on to say that the criteria for furloughed staff does not make clear whether exceptions could be granted to meet the welfare needs of livestock and that OATA members desperately need this to be addressed.
The letter also makes the point that aquatic businesses often have large additional costs in terms of water and electrical consumption to keep tanks and aquariums in optimum conditions.
Dominic writes: “Aquatic species are dependent on the provision of strict lighting and temperature parameters to maintain animal welfare standards so, unlike many businesses, aquatics businesses (retailers and wholesalers) face considerable additional monthly expenditure related to the consumption of utilities, eg electricity and water.”
He added that in the worst cases businesses may be unable to meet the welfare needs of their livestock unless help was forthcoming and that, while the steps already being taken by the government to support small businesses were welcome, they did not take into account these additional costs..
“We would be grateful if the Government could give consideration to the provision of financial support towards utilities for businesses engaged in the provision of essential animal care, for example by way of additional grants or by encouraging utility suppliers to consider permitting payment ‘holidays’,” the letter adds.
OATA will be giving evidence on these issues to an inquiry by the BEIS department, which is looking into the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers.