JD Wetherspoon has been accused of abandoning its 43,000 staff after boss Tim Martin insisted the chain could not afford to pay them during the coronavirus crisis until the company was reimbursed for their wages by the government.

Martin told staff in a video message they would no longer be paid after Friday (20 March) while the company works out the details of the government’s jobs retention scheme, under which it has pledged to pay 80% of wages.

In the video he suggested they could seek work in Tesco, which is hiring staff to help it meet the country’s need for food delivery and distribution, if they needed employment in the meantime.

Martin said Wetherspoon could not afford to keep paying staff if the government reimbursements are not made until late April.

He said: “Companies like Costa, owned by Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s, being owned by large multinationals, can afford to retain staff and commit to paying them, before details of the government furlough scheme are published.

“However, they are in a minority in the pub and restaurant trade. Most companies, including Wetherspoon, do not have the resources, while pubs are shut, to make this commitment and need to see details of the scheme in order to retain and pay staff, as the government has sensibly requested, rather than instigating large-scale layoffs.

“That may seem stark, but that’s the economic reality of the unprecedented situation in the UK today.”

Companies such as Costa Coffee have promised their staff eight weeks fully paid.

The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BFAWU) said the staff would have no means of paying their rent, bills or food, with little warning of the decision.

The uninion said it was clear Wetherspoons “hold no regard for the financial and mental wellbeing of their employees”.

A spokesman for the pub company said tens of thousands of hospitality workers had already lost their jobs, while Wetherspoon was retaining all its employees, albeit not paying them. 

The spokesman added: “Wetherspoon believes that the actions it has taken are responsible and sensible in the difficult circumstances.”