Hundreds sent home as major construction site shuts its gates

Hundreds of workers have been sent home from a major construction site, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The TeesREP biomass plant temporarily shut its gates on Tuesday, amid safety concerns over social distancing.

A handful of maintenance staff stayed on site and were also due to work on Wednesday, if the recommended social distancing of two metres could be maintained.

Around 1,500 workers of various nationalities work on the project.

Many have voiced concerns, claiming social distancing at the Teesport project was “impossible” for them.

Meanwhile Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has given guidance on what could happen next for worried workers.

He said the move to take workers off site was the “right decision” to “protect staff and public health “in these extraordinary and unprecedented times”.

And workers who are not returning would be eligible for the 80% of their salary from the government.

Sub-contractors were being urged to get in touch with HMRC to access government support for wages, he added, rather than resorting to job cuts.

“The message is crystal clear,” he said.

He added: “Work will continue with MGT to assess how work can recommence safely and within public health rules on social distancing, which will develop over the coming days.

“MGT are committing to try and prevent redundancies, and sub-contractors should contact HMRC to access the government support which is available to them.

“It is absolutely essential in this time of national emergency that everyone pulls together and strictly follows the advice set out by the government.”

Bosses at the site, which is run by MGT Teesside, had been working hard to put safety measures in place.

A spokesperson said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of everyone working on the site is our first priority.

“While a significant number of new measures had already been introduced to reduce contact between people and increase safety, following the Government’s statement [on Monday], subcontractors instructed their employees to return home today.

“A small number of critical maintenance staff remain on site, following all social distancing protocols. This decision was taken to protect the health and safety of the workforce, and of course the wider national interests in helping prevent the spread of the virus.

“We understand the concern and anxiety the suspension of work will cause all employees working on the site.

“All employees on site on Tuesday will be receiving a full day’s pay and we are working with subcontractors to help them access the Government’s financial support schemes.

“We will also keep under constant review the potential for return to work in accordance with government and industry requirements.

“Covid-19 is clearly having an inconceivable impact across the country, to which this development is not immune.

“It is a continually, rapidly evolving situation which we, along with the rest of the industry, is doing our best to keep pace with government and industry guidelines and make decisions which prioritise our people, while doing everything we can to mitigate the economic impact.”

Meanwhile thousands more plant and construction site workers on Teesside turned out for work as usual on Wednesday, following the PM’s announcement.

Under the guidelines set out by the government, sites could remain open as long as social distancing is maintained.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove echoed the advice for the construction industry on Tuesday, according to reports.

He said all major construction work should go ahead but jobs carried out at close quarters in someone's home would not be appropriate.