In response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is vitally important that we all practise social-distancing to protect ourselves, those around us, and our NHS. To limit the spread of the virus, the Government announced last week that people should leave the house to go to work only if absolutely necessary.
These restrictions on work are a crucial part of social-distancing and employers should absolutely not be putting pressure on employees to flout them. Many employers are abiding by Government guidance, but others ought to be utterly ashamed at the lack of basic decency they are showing in this crisis.
I’ve been contacted by many people in non-essential jobs who are still being told to go into work, including those in at-risk groups.
Frightened employees at Next in Pontefract told me that the company was still insisting at-risk employees go into work or go without pay. There are reports that people with disabilities are having to sit on the warehouse floor to eat their food. I am pleased they eventually took the decision to close the store.
At Capita call-centres hundreds of staff are still going into work in their call-centres. It is simply not credible that home-working cannot be arranged for a telecommunications firm.
Both ASOS and Pretty Little Things are also insisting that their employees work in close proximity to one another in warehouses, in spite of the lockdown.
Even the Home Office had been requiring non-essential workers to come into its offices in Sheffield and Liverpool, against the Government’s own guidance. Along with other Labour MPs, I raised this issue with Ministers who then, thankfully, enforced social-distancing.
And Sainsbury’s were asking staff in at-risk groups to work in its stores and warehouses without basic protections like hand sanitizer. I’m glad they have seen sense since and now all workers in at-risk groups will be able to work from home on full pay.
To save lives, we all need to play our part in stopping the spread of coronavirus. Any employer who undermines that effort by insisting that their employees go into work unnecessarily should face serious sanctions.
For its part, the Government needs to produce clearer guidance, force closures of all non-essential businesses, and provide much more comprehensive support to both workers and businesses affected by the economic shock that the pandemic has caused.
If your employer is preventing you from working from home unnecessarily or is not practising social distancing, please contact me at Louise.Haigh.MP@parliament.uk. I will, of course, respect people’s anonymity.