Reeves: “Businesses will be held to account for what they’ve done during this pandemic”

The chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, MP Rachel Reeves, has warned businesses that they will be held to account for decisions they take during the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the Labour MP for Leeds West was responding to reports of employers failing to protect workers by imposing social distancing. She heard reports of employers simply putting posters on the wall and of workers gathering in canteens during meal breaks.

She said: “In 24 hours we received about 1,000 pieces of information from workers about their experience. We heard from estate agents, who despite the shop being closed are still having to go into work, bank call centres, TV engineers, manufacturers of garden furniture, people working for debt collection companies – lots and lots of different types of business who in many cases are carrying on with business as usual, yet we know we shouldn’t be doing things as usual.

“We need to be making huge changes in the way we work if we’re to slow or halt this virus. Many businesses, I’m afraid, are not doing what this government are asking them to do.”

Prompted that businesses were struggling to maintain the right balance between keeping the business going, which helps the economy, and keeping people safe, Rachel Reeves replied: “The priority has absolutely got to be keeping people safe.

“We had lots of people saying to us they are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions. They live with family members who are vulnerable, some may have symptoms and are being told they have to come to work and if they don’t come to work they have to take sick leave on statutory sick pay or take holiday. That’s not acceptable.

“The government has put in place a scheme for income replacement. Businesses should be using that to pay staff if they are not coming into work, and at work there needs to be big changes in terms of social distancing.

“Many  many business, including call centres, could be ensuring many more ensure people are WFH to slow and halt this virus

“But all business need to think at the end of this they are going to have to answer  for the decisions they are making now. In time, businesses will be held to account for what they’ve done during this pandemic.”

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