Asos denies its warehouse is a 'cradle of disease' for workers

People turned up for the afternoon shift at the Asos warehouse in Grimethorpe, Barnsley, as normal on Monday afternoon but some are anxious the company is not adequately protecting them during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The GMB Union says that a survey it carried out of almost 470 workers over the weekend showed that 98% feel unsafe, even after new safety measures at the site were introduced.

One respondent said: “Hundreds of people are coming to work by bus.

"[There’s] No safe distance between them."

Government advice is to distance yourself at least two metres from anyone near to you. Credit: GMB

Another claimed: "The warehouse is overcrowded and keeping the two metres safety distance between employees is difficult."

And a third said: "Nothing [at the warehouse] is safe.

"Dirty toilets.

"Sometimes without toilet paper, without soap, without hand sanitising gel..."

The distribution centre in South Yorkshire has been criticised by workers. Credit: PA

The GMB says that a series of videos and photos that were taken on Sunday and shared with the union suggest that workers are right to be concerned.

One video shows that people in the security queue to go into the warehouse are not standing 2 metres apart and aren’t being forced to.

In another, the Asos shuttle bus which carries workers to and from the warehouse seems so crowded that social distancing is impossible.

The Asos distribution centre in Barnsley. Credit: PA

One Asos employee told ITV News that she and others felt anxious about travelling to the site but couldn’t afford not to.

“Staff are caught between a rock and a hard place.

"The employers say they don’t have to come into work but they’ll only get statutory sick pay of £94 a week,” the worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told us.

Tim Roache of the GMB Union. Credit: PA

The GMB Union has repeated its call for Asos to close the warehouse and furlough its workforce.

Tim Roache, the GMB general secretary, said: “Conditions at Asos are scarcely believable - workers we’ve spoken to describe it as a ‘cradle of disease’.

"It’s absolutely horrifying, a real catalogue of shame.

“Here, you’ve got people packed on to public transport, a lack of social distancing, thousands of workers going into one warehouse then back to their families."

Community, the union which represents more than 2,000 workers at the Asos warehouse said it has been working with the company for several weeks to improve safety measures.

It indicated that Asos needed to move quickly to retain the confidence of staff but, unlike the GMB, it isn’t calling for the warehouse to close.

In a statement, they said: "We have been on site all day today listening to our members’ concerns and instructing the company to take further action to improve safety, particularly around shift changes.

"If these changes cannot be implemented effectively and rapidly, then they should cease operating.”

Stephanie Peacock, left, says Asos have been 'completely irresponsible'. Credit: PA

Over the weekend Asos has been having a sale.

The company insists it can safely process the orders that were made but the MP in whose constituency the Asos Warehouse is feels differently.

“I think it’s completely irresponsible,” Stephanie Peacock MP told ITV News.

"It’s clearly going to increase demand at a time they’re meant to be reducing the number of people on site.

"I think Asos need to close their warehouse and put people before their profits.”

Asos insists it’s doing no such thing.

In a statement, the chief executive, Nick Beighton, said: “We totally refute these allegations.

"They are false and do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time.

"In line with Government guidance, and with support from the Community Union and Barnsley Borough Council, we are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational, for the good of our employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff, which is always our number one priority.

"Since the lockdown, we have introduced a range of additional health and safety measures and the Environmental Health Officer, who visited the site on Friday, confirmed he was happy with the protocols we have in place.”

Next shut down its online operation last week. Credit: PA

In a statement, Cllr Sir Steve Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Council, said: “In response to the concerns we received, our Regulatory Services visited the site on Friday, March 27, and found that at the time of the visit there were various social distancing measures in place and at no point did our officer see any member of staff not in compliance with this.

“As a further measure to support the company to remain open, a conference call took place today between BMBC, Stagecoach and XPO [which operates the site for Asos] to further expand the number of buses servicing the site and to build upon the action that has been taken to date.

"This has included increasing bus numbers at shift times and moving to double-decker vehicles where needed."

Last week, Next was forced to shutdown its online operation after warehouse staff made it clear they didn’t feel comfortable at work.

Now others retailers need to show they can win the confidence of those who work for them.

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