In Brief

Coronavirus: businesses under fire for not protecting workers

String of companies facing public outcry over decision to stay open during national lockdown

A number of businesses have come under public pressure to close, after saying they will remain open despite the prime minister’s call for all but “absolutely necessary” workers to remain at home.

Despite the lockdown, construction company workers are still commuting to busy building sites across the country, as projects continue despite the danger posed by the spread of the coronavirus.

An anonymous architect told the BBC that at one site there are thousands of people going in and out daily, adding: “Everyone is very worried.”

Elsewhere, a builder in Cambridge working on a site in close proximity to 300 other workers told the broadcaster: “[The site] has a small smoking area, fingerprint turnstiles and a canteen not capable of the social distancing standard.”

Taylor Wimpey is one of the few construction firms that has announced it is closing its sites to prevent the spread of virus.

Redrow - whose current building work includes developments in South Wales, Manchester and London - has said that its sites “currently remain open with strict precautions in place”

This, the company says, includes “enhanced levels of cleaning, additional hygiene facilities and social distancing”.

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Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “With well over a million construction workers being officially registered as self-employed, they have a stark choice of working or they and their families facing hunger.”

This has been echoed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said that he told the Boris Johnson “forcibly” that construction workers should not be going into work.

The prime minister's official spokesperson said that the government’s Construction Leadership Council had issued guidance to the industry. 

The spokesperson added: “We urge employers to use their common sense when managing live projects and ensuring that employees can follow the Government guidance and practice safe social distancing on site.”

Retail companies are also facing public pressure over their response to the pandemic. Sports Direct yesterday performed a U-turn on keeping its shops open, following a public outcry over its plans.

Sports Direct initially said it would remain open throughout the lockdown, claiming it was “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible”. It later reversed this, saying it would not open “until we are given the go-ahead by the government”.

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin is also facing criticism after saying that he will pay employees for all work done until his pubs last opened, but will not make any further payments to staff during the lockdown.

Martin’s decision comes despite the government’s pledge to cover 80% of the wages of workers affected by the shutdown.

Ian Hodson, president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, said of Martin: “He is ignoring the advice of the Government to stand by your workers and instead abandoning them in their time of need.”

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