Boohoo warehouse in Burnley should close over coronavirus pandemic, says union
The online retail giant, which employs around 1,000 people at its site in Widow Hill Road, is currently open.
Union representatives said they had received a number of enquiries from employees concerned about their health and safety.
Mike Aylward, Usdaw Divisional Officer, said selling fashion items was not essential in a period of national emergency and urged the Government to clarify its advice regards online retail, where social distancing measures are difficult to implement.
Mr Aylward has urgently 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.”
Usdaw is also making clear calls on employers to improve health and safety for people working in warehouse and distribution operations:
- Clear provisions for workers to keep at least two metres apart at all times, in line with Government guidance. This means that, for non-essential business, two-person delivery operations must cease with immediate effect.
- Full sick pay for those in vulnerable groups and for individuals who live with people in vulnerable groups.
- Additional sinks, provision of hand sanitiser for individuals and provision of cleaning equipment for all work stations.
- Increased hours for cleaning staff.
- Early shift finishes and guarantee of overtime payments where time spent leaving the site has increased due to queues adhering to social distancing.
- Staggered break times along with extra break rooms with adequate rest facilities and additional smoking areas to ensure social distancing.
- Flexibility and understanding around childcare issues in light of school closures.