“Send your workers home” – unions’ message to warehouse bosses

Sports Direct, Shirebrook

Unions have called on bosses to send workers home from warehouses to save lives during the coronavirus crisis.

Unite has said Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley should close his firm’s Shirebrook workforce, while Usdaw has made similar demands on JD Sports and Boohoo and GMB the same with Net-A-Porter and Amazon.

The unions are concerned warehouses are breeding grounds for coronavirus, due to poor hygiene and crowded working conditions.

Unite has written to the Sports District management outlining a catalogue of examples where the company has ignored the government’s guidelines for work places during the national emergency.

There are an estimated 3,000-4,000 workers at the Derbyshire warehouse, a key component in Mike Ashley’s retail empire. Earlier this week, Sports Direct had to back down over plans to keep its high street shops open, following a public backlash.

In her letter, Unite regional officer Cheryl Pidgeon said: “We have reports of workers being threatened with no jobs if they self-isolate when they have underlying health concerns. We have reports of people being told not to bother about just having two people in the car when they drive to work – but to come in ‘in fives’.

“We have photographic evidence of lack of products available for workers to wash as per government guidelines. We have reports of workers not staying two metres apart and photographic evidence of this. People are today still using scanners with their fingers and being searched closely.

“The products that many people are working on are not critical to the nation at this moment in time – we have photographic evidence of this also. There are many, many scared workers at the warehouse.”

“These are decent human beings who have served Sports Direct loyally in difficult conditions on low wages and many are on non-permanent contracts. They are not fodder to make mass profit at the expense of their own health and safety, and that of their family. The work at the warehouse is not critical as per government guidelines.

“Many of the community are ex-miners with severe chest health problems – by not allowing workers to go home and stay safe you are putting local communities at risk.

“For the sake of the employees, the local community and the business reputation please allow workers to go home, stay safe and pay them their usual wages without loss of money.

“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of all workers at the warehouse – ask Mike Ashley, for once, to do the right thing by the workers – put them and not profit first.”

Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said: “When the history of the coronavirus comes to be written, Mike Ashley’s already besmirched reputation will be in shreds, unless he does the right thing and send his Shirebrook workers home on full pay for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

“Ashley has become fabulously rich on the backs of low-paid workers – now is the time that he should rise above the ruthless pursuit of profit that has pockmarked his controversial career – the nation is watching.”

Usdaw is calling on JD Sports to close their Rochdale warehouse to protect 5,000 staff and the wider Rochdale community from coronavirus.

Usdaw divisional officer Tony Clare said: “This is disgraceful behaviour from one of the country’s biggest and most successful companies. They may be abiding by the letter of the government guidelines, which are now being shown to be an absolute shambles, but this is not in the spirit of what the government and more importantly the public expect. Selling trainers and sports fashion is not an essential service in the middle of our greatest ever national emergency.

“Unfortunately this is not surprising, the company has an appalling record when it comes to the health and safety of their staff. We are calling on JD to do the right thing for once and close the warehouse for everyone’s safety.”

Usdaw divisional officer Mike Aylward has written to Boohoo saying: “I have received numerous enquiries from our members in your Burnley warehouse concerned about their health and safety during the Coronavirus outbreak and seeking clarity over your intentions to keep the warehouse open or not.

“Government advice is not clear. From the PM’s address to the nation to the current advice on the government website the goalposts have moved from businesses only being allowed to open if they are on the list of essential services, to being allowed to open simply because it’s not possible to work from home.

“However, if you followed the spirit of the government advice and prioritised the health of your employees then you would close the warehouse. Selling fashion items is not essential in a period of national emergency.

“Could you please confirm that you intend to close the warehouse for the safety of your employees and their families?

“Assuming that you do the right thing and close the warehouse then Boohoo staff will become ‘furloughed workers’ i.e. they will be covered by the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme entitling  them to 80% of their wages while they are unable to work.

“The mechanics of delivering the 80% wages are not yet clear and are unlikely to be so until the end of April. However, Boohoo is a very rich company that can easily afford to pay staff their wages in the normal way in the meantime. A crude calculation shows that it would cost in the region of £10 million to pay everyone in the warehouse their full wages for 3 months. 80% of this would be recoverable from government so the ultimate cost to Boohoo would be about £2 million. This is easily manageable for a company with a turnover approaching £1 billion and profits in excess of £50 million. It’s a couple of weeks’ profits at most.

“Could you please confirm that you will continue to pay staff their FULL wages as normal? Your staff look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”

GMB organiser Mary Stump said: Net-A-Porter is quite simply putting fashion before lives. This is a company with a turnover of more than £700 million, yet they insist on putting the whims of customers before the safety of their workforce.

“Now is not the time for us to be focussing on sending out expensive fashion items to people who can’t leave the house if it means workers are being exposed to needless contamination – not to mention the risk to Net-A-Porter customers.

“GMB calls on the company to follow government advice immediately and close the warehouse down before it’s too late.”

GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “We are so angry about this – these workers are petrified of catching and spreading COVID-19 and rightly so.  Amazon is blatantly disregarding the two metre social distancing rules, there are no masks, no sanitiser and with the vast amount of people working there there’s no way of keeping them from getting ill.

“It’s impossible for Amazon workers to keep a safe distance from each other and hit their productivity targets. Amazon has a duty of care – not just to its own workers but to the whole of the British public.”

  • Like this story? Please support our work here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *