The shadow employment minister has called or all non-essential workplaces to be closed in a letter to the prime minister.
Labour MP Rachael Maskell urged the government to close workplaces such as call centres and factories during the coronavirus crisis as employees were putting themselves and others at risk by continuing to work there.
She said many people continued to work without access to protective equipment or adequate hand-washing facilities, despite government warnings that those in non-essential roles should stay at home.
Earlier this week the GMB union claimed that 98% of warehouse workers at an ASOS site in Barnsley felt unsafe because no social distancing measures were enforced, and that hundreds of workers were taking breaks at the same time.
While shops that stock non-essential goods were forced to close last week, many warehouses, online businesses and call centres continue to operate.
Around 330 Argos concessions inside Sainsbury’s stores remain open for customers to collect items they have ordered online. In a recent House of Commons business select committee, evidence from workers claimed that people were buying “paddling pools, play sand, wardrobes, TVs, video games and consoles – all non-essential”.
Large numbers of self-employed workers have also continued to work as they fail to qualify for the chancellor’s emergency support package, announced last week – the financial support does not pay out until June, and many fall through the cracks if they have recently begun trading. Some workers from standalone stores claimed they had been forced to work in Sainsbury’s outlets, putting themselves at risk.
Maskell called for the “strict and enforceable closure” of non-essential sites. She said: “Workers have reported the unsafe environments that they are working in where there is no appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), often little or no hygiene facilities or appropriate deep cleaning, and in the vast majority of examples, no social distancing practices.
“As a result of this, workers are not only being exposed to the risk of infection, but risk spreading coronavirus too.”
Workers having to take public transport to their place of work increased this risk, she added.
Even at the NHS frontline there continue to be issues around the provision of PPE to doctors and nurses.
According to the Doctors’ Association UK, NHS employees are being warned by hospitals and other NHS employers that they should not raise concerns about lack of protective equipment publicly – in some cases staff have been threatened with disciplinary action or have been sent threatening emails.
Dr Samantha Batt Rawden, present of DAUK, said at least two doctors had been sent home from work for voicing their concerns.