A Burnley company has been shamed on national television amid shocking allegations of harsh working conditions.
Bosses at Boohoo, which has a huge warehouse on the Heasandford Industrial Estate, have defended themselves after the broadcast of a Dispatches investigation on Channel Four this week.
The company, which regularly recruits for new workers in Burnley, was heavily criticised on the programme over a number of issues including a “three strikes and out” policy and some workers having to walk up to 25 miles a day with few breaks.
The programme particularly focused on agency workers recruited by Tailored Recruitment Services (TRS).
However, bosses have said that the programme-makers had rejected an invitation to visit its premises and instead sent a “covert” reporter.
Claims made in the investigation include:
• 15 minutes worth of pay being docked for being a minute late to a shift;
• Workers having to walk up to 25 miles a day;
• A system that tracks workers’ movements.
During the programme, a Boohoo team leader said: “Guys check the time on their phones and we’ve been asked to give people strikes for that.
“In one instance, I received an email to ask me if I could give somebody a strike because somebody was smiling.”
Burnley MP Julie Cooper has now said she will seek a meeting with Boohoo bosses to discuss the “troubling claims”.
Boohoo has since disputed many of the claims and said it had made an important contribution to Burnley since moving to the town in 2010.
But Mrs Cooper said: “The management team at Boohoo have agreed to the visit to enable me to see the working environment first hand. I will be expecting to hear their plans to ensure that the employment rights of their workers are respected and wellbeing protected where breaches may have arisen.
“Clearly Boohoo is a huge employer in Burnley, so it is essential that channels of communication remain effective and open between all interested parties to ensure that all connected with the company, benefit from their ongoing commercial success.”
The company denied it had a “three strikes policy” and said it pays all of its warehouse staff (both agency and permanent) more than the National Minimum Wage.
A spokesman for the company said: “Boohoo invited Dispatches last week to its Burnley warehouse to film openly without having to rely on already obtained covert footage but regrettably they declined our offer.
“Boohoo, like most employers, has policies in place to manage the performance, conduct and attendance of its staff.
“We are disappointed that some individuals still refer to ‘strikes’ as shown in the programme. This is not in line with our current policies, and is legacy language passed on by a former agency with which we have ceased working.”
The undercover reporter was taken on as an “order picker”, whose role is to collect the orders and take them to the packers to send to customers.
It was revealed that if workers arrive just one minute late, they’ll be docked 15 minutes pay.
Employment lawyer, Liana Wood, told the programme she believes this rule could be considered “unlawful” because if the worker was on the National Minimum Wage, that would bring their hourly rate below the National Minimum Wage.
According to the Dispatches reporter, pickers walk approximately 20 to 25 miles per day, up and down six flights of stairs. Some were also said to be suffering from stress due to a system that tracks what each worker was doing, where they were in the warehouse and whether they were hitting targets.
Boohoo disputed this claim stating it had been independently ascertained that the average distance walked by an employee is currently around 12km or 7.5 miles.
A spokesman added: “As an online only business, we have experienced rapid growth in line with changing consumer shopping habits, and we have invested in our operations accordingly, both at head office in Manchester and at our warehouse in Burnley in order to support this growth.
“We want to stress that although we have experienced rapid growth in the past few years, the wellbeing of our employees has remained one of our top priorities.
“We recognise that we don’t always get everything right first time, however, we have a number of policies and procedures in place to protect our people and we work hard to ensure that high standards are met.
“We are not a faceless giant of an employer, the boohoo family is one that looks to engage with and invest in our team, helping them to grow their careers with us and share in the success of the business.”
The company, which employs 1,400 people, including 950 based at its Burnley warehouse, said it had invested more than £25m. in the Burnley site in the last three years and made a public commitment to invest £70m. over the next seven years.
Bosses added that they plan to build a 24 hour subsidised restaurant as well as gym and leisure facilities for workers this year.
But Burnley Borough Council leader, Coun. Mark Townsend, slammed the company over the claims.
He Tweeted: “Disgusted by what was revealed by Channel Four Dispatches. Goods made by exploited workers on less than £4 an hour have no place in Burnley.”