1. ITV Report

Next asking staff to work in closed stores despite Government's COVID-19 guidance

Next wants staff to work in closed stores for its online operation Credit: PA

High street fashion retailer Next is offering to pay staff 20% extra if they work in stores today (Wednesday 25th March), despite the Government's coronavirus guidance urging people to stay at home unless it's absolutely essential.

The chain, based in Enderby in Leicestershire, is asking workers to travel to closed sites and pick clothes to fulfil online orders.

According to a letter seen by the Press Association, Next told staff that the work needed to be done "to keep the company operating".

But some staff have questioned whether this counts as an 'essential' job, given the guidelines saying all unnecessary travel should not take place.

The Prime Minister said on Monday that all shops should close, apart from a few exemptions, including grocers, pharmacies, pet shops, bicycle shops and hardware stores.

Next had already decided to close it's stores on Monday.

However, retailers can still trade online, but it's led to further pressure on the Government to intervene to clarify.

The letter, sent on Tuesday night, said: "We need to keep the online business functioning to be certain that Next emerges from this short term crisis."

"To help us, we are looking for a small number of staff to attend work to pick and process the stock in our stores that customers have purchased online and keep the online business going. We will only look to achieve this on a voluntary basis."

"We fully understand that many of you have great concerns about attending work. Please let me reassure you that we are in no circumstances going to ask anyone who is unsure about coming to work to do so."

"We desperately need your support to keep the company operating and we hugely appreciate your help in this."

"If there are any reasons why you personally feel that it is not appropriate for you to work, we will be understanding. For example if you are caring for a vulnerable person at your home, if you cannot manage your childcare, if you cannot travel safely to work, or any other reason."

Further on, it said: "To show our appreciation, if you attend work you will be paid an additional 20% of your basic rate of pay for all hours worked until Saturday 11th April."

Bosses also laid out measures to ensure social distancing and a clean work space, with limits on the number of people in each store, and rules that items are only touched by one person.

Today, a spokesman for Next stressed that the arrangements were completely voluntary, with no obligations for anybody to turn up for work.

"A very small number of staff at any one time are required to help with online orders.

This will enable social distancing whilst these tasks are performed."

– Next spokesman

The company had previously wanted to be classed in the 'essential' category, but added today that "the Government has now told us otherwise and before it did, Next had already closed all its stores."

It comes after Derbyshire-based Sports Direct faced heavy criticism over its initial attempts to remain open as an 'essential' business, claiming it was vital to keep the nation fit during the lockdown.

Bosses later did keep stores closed, but also raised prices on dozens of exercise products.

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