As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson battles the coronavirus from intensive care in a London hospital, publishers in the country are putting staff on furlough in order to protect the future of the companies which are all experiencing a sharp drop in sales.

Penguin Random House (PRH), Hachette UK and Bonnier Books UK have all put staff on furlough – effectively paid leave, with the government paying 80% of their salaries up to £2,500 and the companies topping up this amount to 100%.

PRH CEO Tom Weldon said it was a “temporary but necessary measure” in the “long-term” interests of the company. “For those furloughed,” he added, “we will top up salaries so that any colleague who is affected will continue to be paid in full.  And we will continue to support and be in close contact with all colleagues to protect their mental and physical health during this time.”

Hachette UK said it would furlough staff for a six-week period, “a short-term measure” to protect the company against losses.  It said that “anyone who is furloughed will be topped up to full pay and receive their benefits for the duration”.  Bonnier UK said was furloughing 10% of roles “across the business”.

At Pan Macmillan, CEO Anthony Forbes Watson has taken a 50% drop in salary for three months and the company is asking higher paid staff to take voluntary pay reductions.  In a statement to staff he said: “We expect sales to be particularly hard hit and we must respond speedily and decisively: we have already cut all capital expenditure, travel and entertainment spending and any non-essential spending of any kind beyond the acquiring, making and packaging, communication and distribution of our books. We have decided too, to freeze all vacancies, and to suspend our 2020 pay review indefinitely. While these are wide-ranging steps, we have reluctantly concluded that they won’t alone be adequate to the size of the challenge we face around the world over the coming months.

“We will therefore ask our colleagues everywhere to accept a three-month reduction in pay to meet this challenge….I put this recommendation to you in the knowledge that the present situation demands it. I know you understand this is a hard message to give, and that these decisions have been hard to make; I thank you as ever for your support and your enduring commitment to our business.”