Many employers are still not “doing the right thing” during the current lockdown and forcing non-essential staff to go into the workplace or work without protective equipment, according to a group of MPs.
Following a call for evidence earlier this week, more than 1,000 workers emailed or tweeted the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to provide examples of where they felt their employer was ignoring government advice and putting them at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
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The committee received evidence from workers from a range of sectors and work settings, including estate agents, retail staff, TV engineers and call centre staff.
Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said: “From the evidence we’ve received it’s clear that many businesses are still not doing the right thing. This must change now. This is a health emergency – it cannot be business as usual. Workplaces, even those deemed ‘essential’, should be doing all they can to ensure that their workers are able to work from home or, if they do have to attend work, that they can undertake social distancing.
“The government came forward with an income replacement scheme – there can be no question of workers being, in effect, forced to take annual or sick-leave when they are doing the right thing and keeping themselves safe.
“Businesses need to stand by their workers and keep them safe. In time, businesses will have to answer for their decisions during this pandemic and whether they did the right thing.”
Among the workers who contacted the BEIS committee was a Sports Direct employee who was concerned about having to perform non-essential tasks. The worker acknowledged that the retailer had now closed stores following backlash about its plans to stay open earlier this week, but said managerial staff had been told to continue performing administrative activities in store.
“They are forcing management to work in stores (my particular store has five members of management) daily to complete redundant tasks such as price changes and valuations. This is under the justification that we are ‘essential workers’. They have given us the option to go home and not work, but they won’t pay us a penny,” said the Sports Direct employee.
“We now have the choice to either protect our families or feed our families. A choice that should never be put upon us.
“Myself and my colleagues are frightened about what’s going to happen going forward and the uncertainty will undoubtedly cause major problems with our mental health – the key factor they were using as justification to keep stores open.”
An employee of a Barclaycard call centre claimed their employer was insisting that their work – collecting credit card arrears – was essential and that they should send their children to school.
“Anyone who phones up and says a member of their family is sick with virus symptoms are not given any assurances that they won’t be penalised if they stay off and self-isolate, so they are coming into work. Call centres in general are a hotbed for disease as people share desks,” the employee said.
Myself and my colleagues are frightened about what’s going to happen going forward and the uncertainty will undoubtedly cause major problems with our mental health,” – Sports Direct employee
A Barclaycard spokesperson said: “The safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, customers and clients is our top priority. We have encouraged as many colleagues as possible to work from home and only ask people to come into the workplace when it is essential to supporting customers and clients.
“We have a range of measures in place to help protect colleagues, and incentives such as additional financial support for childcare. In addition, any colleagues presenting with symptoms or linked to those with symptoms are following government guidelines. We recognise the extraordinary effort colleagues are making to maintain service during this unprecedented period of time.”
The committee also heard from an employee from retailer The Range, which has remained open as it sells essential items. The worker said they had been given no PPE or hand sanitisers, while customers were continuing to buy non-essential goods such as curtains and picture frames.
“The only communication we’ve had from head office was an email saying they are looking into extra cleaning methods but will be staying open. Anyone who chooses to self-isolate can do so for two weeks at SSP but is then expected back at work,” said The Range employee.
“I am happy to keep working but I feel that better safety measures need to be put in place and non-essential items should not be sold. This would help to reduce the amount of customers just coming in for a look around and leave us able to help the customers with genuine needs.”
Sports Direct and The Range have been contacted for comment.