The chair of the government’s business select committee today urged employees to protect employees from spreading the virus amid concerns they are being mistreated.
Rachel Reeves, chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said she had been inundated with workers worried about their conditions.
She 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.”
She added: “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.”
Reeves’ committee has received submissions from people working in a wide range of sectors and settings including office-based staff, furniture manufacturers, travel agents, estate agents, law firms, and TV engineers.
Her comments came as two the biggest players in online fashion – Asos and Net-a-Porter – were accused of putting their staff at risk of catching coronavirus today.
The GMB union said that Asos was “playing Russian roulette with people’s lives” at its warehouse in Barnsley, It claimed workers are concerned that there is not enough social distancing and they are forced to gather to clock in and break for lunch.
Asos said: “We totally refute the allegations made by the GMB this morning. They are false, do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time, and are part of a continuing campaign against us and the recognised union on site, Community. It is simply not true to say we don’t have social distancing protocols in place…
“As directed by the Government, we, along with other online retailers, are ensuring we are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational, for the good of our employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff, which is always our number one priority.”
Luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter employs around 550 people at a site in Charlton, south London. GMB said: “Whilst the company claims they are encouraging social distancing, the logistics of the warehouse mean that this is simply not possible.” Net-a-Porter said it had already stepped up its safety measures and that the site was closing today.