Rolling list: Bad business practices during the coronavirus crisis

Elliot Chappell

The government has announced lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus crisis in the UK, including guidance that everyone should be working from home wherever possible.

The Chancellor has also allowed employers to keep furloughed workers on the payroll by using public funds to pay 80% of their wages up to £2,500 a month.

But a number of businesses have continued to force their employees to do non-essential work, made it impossible to practice social distancing, and sacked workers or urged them to use their holiday days instead of paying them.

Below is a rolling list of companies that have been identified as behaving badly towards their employees during the crisis. Last updated: 10am, April 6th.

80 employees of the meat supplier ABP in Northern Ireland have walked out of its site due to concerns about the inadequate implementation of social distancing measures in the workplace. (Source: Metro). 

Workers in warehouses of the technology giant Amazon have complained of crowded conditions without hand sanitiser or personal protective equipment. Employees have reported being left in crowded rooms of 200 to 300 people, sharing equipment with several others with no means to sterilise. (Source: GMB).

During negotiations with trade union GMB for rubbish collectors during the epidemic, a senior executive of Amey plc refused to pay higher sick pay because he believes the virus is “less severe” than normal flu. Despite being classed as key workers in this crisis, the collectors are only being offered the contractual minimum – which leaves many on £94.25 per week. (Source: The Guardian).

AMG Group – a company which produces outdoor and snow sports supplies – has kept its site in Renfrewshire open. Workers have complained about social distancing within the warehouse and about the company’s insistence on staying open despite the instruction from the Scottish government that only “essential businesses” should do so. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Whiskey producers Angus Dundee Distillers in Scotland has remained open, despite reports that six members of their staff are currently self-isolating after having contracted the virus. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Asos, the online clothes retail business, has been accused of “playing Russian roulette with people’s lives” as it has refused to enforce social distancing in its warehouses. There are up to 4,000 people still working at its site in Barnsley. (Source: RetailSector, HuffPost).

Home-building company Avant Homes has said that it is winding down its operations across the country, however staff continue to report to work and employees have complained that the business is not enforcing social distancing measures in its workplaces. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Bacardi has continued to require its employees to report to work in Scotland – with workers heading in to production centres in Glasgow, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, MacDuff, Brackla, Laverstoke and Poniel – despite Scottish government advice that all business premises should close unless “essential” to the health and welfare of the country. (Source: Twitter).

Clothes retailer Boohoo has insisted that staff continue to go into work for, saying that is is “business as usual” for the online giant. Workers at the company have said that they have been told to remain two metres apart at all times, but that this is “impossible to achieve due to the nature of the work”. (Source: The Telegraph).

Live-in staff at one of the Britannia Hotels were sacked and evicted, along with homeless residents, from their accommodation when the health crisis hit – workers were informed their “services were no longer required”. The hotel chain claimed this was an administrative error and apologised following the backlash. (As reported by BBC News).

Staff at BT call centres have recounted that they’ve been “shoved in like sardines”, continuing to work without social distancing measures and with no option to work from home. (Source: The Sun).

The restaurant chain Carluccio’s has informed staff in sites across the country that they will receive a 50% pay cut for March, despite the government guaranteeing 80% of their wages. The business has now gone into administration. (Source: BirminghamLive).

Chivas Brother, a Dumbarton whiskey plant, continued to require workers to go into the site as usual without implementing social distancing practices or providing protective equipment. The plant paused work temporarily after a backlash from staff, but unions are calling for them to close for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. (Source: Dumbarton Reporter).

A rider for Deliveroo has reported being left without pay after having to self-isolate. The company has said that it is financially supporting its workers, however this rider stated that he “hasn’t seen a penny” for the time he spent unable to work. (Source: Left Foot Forward).

Drinks firm Diageo say that they have scaled back production but workers in their plant in Fife, Scotland, have complained about the employer continuing to insist they go to work. The site, which bottles whiskey and vodka products, has remained open despite instruction for all non-essential businesses to close. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Easyjet’s CEO Johan Lundgren appealed to the government, and the taxpayer, to provide it with a loan to support the business from bankruptcy, while it simultaneously planned to pay shareholders dividends of £170m later the same week. (Source: Express).

Workers at Elis Laundry, an outsourced service provider for the NHS, in south London are not being given proper sick pay or isolation pay. Lambeth UNISON has launched a petition, available here. (Source: Lambeth UNISON).

Staff have been left confused by Faurecia Interiors: the company failed to inform workers as to whether they will be registered in the government scheme to pay 80% of their wages in a letter informing them that they are being laid-off. The automotive company employs around 400 people at sites in the West Midlands. (Source: Unite).

Around 170 cleaners at Ford Dagenham have told their union that they are being furloughed this week and face a 20% cut in their pay. This comes despite all other staff at the same site allegedly being furloughed with full pay. (Source: Unite).

Gates Power Transmission workers and their families have complained after the company decided to keep its factory open. The business makes drive belts for cars, and staff have reported that they are made to go into work without protective equipment. (Source: The Daily Record).

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay laid off 500 employees when the government instructed bars and restaurants to temporarily close. This came the day after he paid tribute to his staff in an Instagram post, in which he said: “By supporting each other through this terribly challenging time, we will come through this stronger than ever!” (Source: indy100).

Employees have reported that there are “little or no safety measures” in place in the GUALA United Closures and Plastics factory in Stirlingshire. The company produces bottle caps for the drinks industry and has remained open. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Footage has emerged of staff in the distribution centre of JD Sports Manchester continuing to work without protective equipment and in close contact with each other. The company closed its shops when the health guidance instructed people to only go into the workplace for essential work, but has maintained operations in its warehouses. (Source: BirminghamLive).

Staff have reported that Lightbody Celebration Cakes has ignored guidelines on social distancing in its factories with employees working “just inches apart”. The company has said that it will remain open as it is a food producer – raising questions as to whether its cake-making can be considered essential. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Workers at a Matalan distribution centre in Knowlsey have reported that they are being forced to continue working in cramped and overcrowded conditions as the company fails to comply with public health guidelines. (Source: Liverpool Echo).

1,000 workers at Northern Ireland’s biggest private sector employer, Moy Park, walked out of its Seagoe site after the company failed to put in place adequate measures in response to the spread of the virus. The company now says it has put new “robust” measures in place. (Source: Belfast Telegraph).

Online designer fashion retailer Net-a-Porter has been accused of flouting instructions on social distancing in its south London logistics warehouse, where 550 people continue to work through the health crisis. (Source: GMB).

A leaked email has revealed that Next told its employees to take “unpaid time off” or to use their holiday days if they don’t feel comfortable coming into work. It closed its shops but its online service was kept running, which means warehouses have been operating. But a campaign led by local Labour representatives was effective, and it was confirmed on Thursday evening that Next would be closing. (Source: BuzzFeed News).

Norse Medway – which provides cleaning, refuse and other services for Medway Council in Kent – has refused to pay wages to those self-isolating, leaving staff to instead claim statutory sick pay. The company has also reportedly not made provisions for all its employees to be able to practice social distancing while working. (Source: Unite).

Engineering and technology company Oceaneering has kept its plant in Rosyth, Fife, open and workers report that they are being forced to fulfil orders not required for a further six month’s time. Staff have raised concerns about the ability to continue operating safely as an increasing number of workers cannot make their shifts due to illness. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Pets at Home argued that its staff are key workers, as those providing “veterinary medicine” are on the government’s list. But it stated that all of its staff – including non-veterinarian workers such as shop assistants and customer service workers – should go into work, putting them at risk of infection. (Source: The Guardian).

Cinema chain Picturehouse, owned by Cineworld, emailed staff to sack them following the government’s announcement that cinemas would be closed in response to the spreading virus. The correspondence stated that workers were to be let go with no payment other than their contracted “notice pay”. (Source: The Guardian).

Workers at warehouses of the furniture company Premier Housewares have reported that they’ve been told they will not get sick pay if they do not go into work. Workers also explain that they are not allowed to take their paid annual leave, effectively forcing them to work through this period. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Pretty Little Things has continued to keep work going in its warehouse in Sheffield. Workers have complained of a shortage of hand sanitiser and said that it is “impossible” to remain a safe distance from one another. (Source: BBC News).

Quiz Clothing has kept its distribution centres open to process online orders. Staff have complained about being forced to continue to work while others have been sent home with pay, and question the need for the business to remain open throughout the coronavirus epidemic. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Customer service agent for John Lewis Sitel has been accused of failing to introduce social distancing before March 24th. One employee stated that they are “extremely worried” and being forced to continue working despite it not being “essential”. (Source: Left Foot Forward).

Employees have complained that the company Spirit Aerosystems, which manufactures parts for aircrafts, is sending staff home with reduced sick pay and has refused to close its site in Prestwick, Ayr. (Source: The Scottish Sun).

Retailer Sports Direct made an announcement to all of its staff that its stores would be remaining open just 30 minutes after the PM made his lockdown statement. The organisation then U-turned and CEO Mike Ashley was forced to apologise. But the company’s warehouses and factories are continuing to operate. (Source: The Independent).

Engineers for television giant Sky informed a parliamentary committee that they are being sent to around seven homes per day to set up the company’s packages. They also complained that it is difficult to practice social distancing during these visits. (Source: The Sun).

Travelodge gave homeless families and key workers resident in its hotels just two hours to vacate their accommodation as it pressed ahead with closures of 360 hotels, despite requests from local and central government to continue housing these guests. (Source: The Guardian).

The airline Virgin Atlantic told its workers to take unpaid holiday when Covid-19 began to spread and business went downhill. (Source: Sky News).

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin told workers that he would only pay staff up until the date that the pubs were last open until the government to fulfil its pledge to pay 80% of their wages. He suggested that people apply for jobs at the supermarket Tesco. The pub chain has since U-turned and agreed to pay its workers weekly. (Source: BBC News).

Homeware store Wilko intends to cut sick pay for its workers. The company said it’s losing money as a result of staff taking time off work when not actually ill. Under the plans, many of its employees would have had to rely on statutory sick pay – £94.25 per week – from April 1st. Following pressure from unions and the public, these changes have been postponed until September. (Source: Left Foot Forward).

Wren Kitchens designer and showroom staff at multiple locations across the country have reported being sacked amid the shops’ temporary closures. The company told the workers: “The reason for your dismissal is due to your performance bearing in mind the needs of the business and the economic situation facing the UK in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Source: Plymouth Live, Lincolnshire Live).

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