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Clothing retailers condemned for keeping crowded warehouses in operation

UNIONS and Labour strongly condemned fashion retailers today for keeping crowded warehouses open during the coronavirus crisis.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that “non-essential” businesses should be shut by the government and “named and shamed” by the media if they continue operating during the lockdown.

Up to 4,000 people are still working at the Sports Direct warehouse in Derbyshire, despite founder and chief executive Mike Ashley being forced to abandon plans to keep his high-street shops open following a public backlash.

The Unite union wrote to Sports Direct management today, rebuking the company for a “catalogue” of breaches of government guidelines during the national emergency.

In her letter, Unite regional officer Cheryl Pidgeon said the union has received reports — sometimes backed up with photographs — of workers with health problems being threatened with the sack, failures to provide soap for handwashing and social distancing not being enforced.

Members of the public have been urged, when they leave their homes for essential reasons, to stay at least two metres away from other people to avoid the risk of infection.

Ms Pidgeon said: “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.

“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.”

Online fast-fashion retailer Asos was condemned by GMB union organiser Deanne Ferguson for putting up to 4,000 people in danger by not closing its Barnsley warehouse, which she described as a “hotbed of infection.”

Workers reported that there were no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking-in system which leads large numbers of people to gather in a small area and hundreds of workers taking lunch breaks at the same time. 

GMB also criticised luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, which has an annual turnover of more than £700 million, for refusing to close its south London warehouse.

The union said that it was impossible for the 550 workers there to maintain social distancing.

GMB organiser Mary Stump said: “The company are quite simply putting fashion before lives.”

Tony Clare, deputy divisional officer at shopworkers’ union Usdaw, condemned the “disgraceful behaviour” of retailer JD Sports for keeping open its Rochdale warehouse, where up to 5,000 staff work.

The company is refusing to close the warehouse, despite a government pledge to pay 80 per cent of laid-off workers’ wages.

Under the deal, the company would pay workers £5m, which equates to just 1.47 per cent of its £340m profit last year.

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