Scotland call centre outbreak: Staff members 'lax' about social distancing measures employee claims

Video report by ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith

Staff at a Lanarkshire call centre hit by a coronavirus outbreak would breach socialdistancing rules, an employee has said.

The 19-year-old started working at the Sitel call centre at Eurocentral business park near Bellshill just days before lockdown and has now tested positive for coronavirus.

Speaking anonymously to the PA news agency, she said workers did not always follow guidance on social distancing and she thought staff on the Test and Trace team were more "lax" about following Covid-19 regulations.

It was reported on Sunday that a six employees were tested positive for coronavirus, with Scotland's Deputy First Minister describing the outbreak as a "serious concern".

Social distancing was 'lax', an employee claims. Credit: ITV News

The employee said while there were social distancing measures in place, a lack of seating in communal areas - where employees spend their breaks - meant staff would often sit together.

She said: "There’s benches and they have tape, and where there is no tape you can sit, so there are two metres in place.

"But there are not enough seats so people are bumping in together.

"They do put the things in place, it’s just the workers aren’t enforcing them."

She added: “Down in the track and trace they are getting one to two calls a day, so they are sitting doing nothing, they are sitting playing games with each other just to keep the time going.

"The rules are more lax down there and that’s why we think it has obviously come from there."

The worker, who has asthma, is now in quarantine.

"You just need to take each day as it comes, what’s meant to be will be," she said. “That’s the only way you can go about it, there’s no point making yourself feel worse."

  • ITV News' Peter Smith spoke to one employee at the centre who has now tested positive for Covid-19:

ITV News spoke to one employee at the centre who said those in charge should "apologise".

Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney has not ruled out penalties being levied against the owners of the North Lanarkshire call centre, he has said.

Mr Swinney said investigations would need to be undertaken to "get an understanding" of how guidance was being followed within the facility.

When asked on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland radio programme on Monday if penalties could levied against Sitel, Mr Swinney said: "These are all issues that will be explored, but what our primary focus is on is to make sure that we interrupt any transmission of the virus."

John Swinney has not ruled out penalties being levied against the owners of the North Lanarkshire call centre. Credit: PA

Measures have been brought in by the region's health board to try and suppress the outbreak. NHS Lanarkshire said it had been notified about "potentially linked cases" of Covid-19 infections in the area on Sunday.

  • Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith explains what we know so far:

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon had reported Sitel to police and public health authorities after staff contacted her regarding conditions in the call centre, she said.

Ms Lennon said there should be “sanctions against bad bosses who put public healthat risk”.

She said: “Contact centres like Sitel in Lanarkshire, who run the site where therehas been an outbreak, have been named and shamed for their treatment of staff,when many of them could have worked from home.

“My office has previously had to report Sitel to the police and relevant healthauthorities earlier in the lockdown because of staff complaints.

Scientists working at the Lighthouse Laboratory in Glasgow which receives and analyses coronavirus swabs taken from NHS staff. Credit: PA

An NHS Test and Trace spokeswoman said: "We are aware of a local outbreak of Covid-19 at the Sitel site in Motherwell.

"This is being managed by Sitel and colleagues in NHS Lanarkshire, who are following appropriate test and protect action in line with Scottish Government advice.

"We take the safety and wellbeing of our staff very seriously. Everyone at the site is currently working from home while a deep clean takes place, and will be offered a test within the next 24 hours."

NHS Test and Trace is a service operated by the NHS in England to track and help prevent the spread of Covid-19 south of the border.

Dr David Cromie, NHS Lanarkshire consultant in public health medicine, said on Sunday: "We became aware this morning of a number of potentially linked cases of coronavirus in Lanarkshire.

"We instigated some immediate measures to reduce risk and are currently investigating the situation."

The news comes as Scotland recorded 23 new confirmed cases of coronavirus – the highest increase in almost a month. Three of these were in the Lanarkshire health board area.

Sitel has been approached for comment.