GMB union is calling on Marks and Spencer (MKS.L) to take steps to ensure safe social distancing between staff is enforced in order to protect workers from the coronavirus.
GMB has made the demands after distribution staff at the retailer’s Swindon warehouse staged two walk outs over safety fears.
The trade union has criticised DHL (DPW.DE), which runs the warehouse on behalf of M&S, for its “cavalier attitude to health and safety.”
Around 80 GMB members walked out of work on 24 and 26 March to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions, and lack of precautions over coronavirus.
Andy Newman, GMB branch secretary, said: “Our members are extremely frightened.
“GMB shop stewards challenged managers about the impossibility of maintaining a two metre distance, the lack of hand sanitiser and PPE and the practice of passing equipment between staff without hygiene precautions. Sadly, they were shouted down.
“One DHL manager agreed if staff didn’t feel safe they could leave the site — this led to a walk out.
“But now DHL are saying that they will not pay staff who don’t turn up for work, even though the staff don’t feel safe.
“Workers then removed themselves from what they saw as a dangerous situation, as they’re entitled to do under the Employment Relations Act.
“GMB demands Marks and Spencer steps in to ensure safe social distancing is enforced, and work practices are modified to meet government guidelines to prevent virus contagion.”
A spokesperson for DHL Supply Chain said: “The UK government considers the work done by the logistics industry to be essential. As a result, the Swindon distribution remains open, although with reduced volumes. In these exceptional times, the safety of our employees and customers is paramount.
“Since the start of last week the distribution centre has been following the government’s updated guidelines around social distancing, with regular enforcement by local management. All staff have been briefed on the importance of social distancing and the correct way to hand wash, while soap and hand washing facilities are readily available with clear instructions displayed throughout the operation.
"In addition, we have implemented a number of new measures at the site. These include floor marking at key locations to help colleagues maintain distance, staggered break times, and canteen seating arrangements that allow colleagues to stay at least two metres away from each other. We have also introduced a maximum number of people per work area per shift to ensure colleagues are spread out across the site.
"The management team is actively monitoring the site at entry and exit points, and at the start and end of shifts, to ensure full compliance with our social distance policy. All non-essential workers who can perform their roles from home have been told to do so, and all high-risk team members have been instructed to self-isolate.
"We will continue to carry out regular briefings while actively engaging with our on-site trade union steward to help reinforce the message, to ensure the wellbeing of all our colleagues.”
An M&S spokesperson said: “M&S fully supports the government’s efforts to protect the NHS and save lives. Last week, we temporarily suspended our Clothing & Home store operations and closed outlet stores, whilst our Foodhalls and online businesses remain open so we can continue to deliver for customers.
“This does mean a change to our operations — we know these are difficult times and our logistics partners are doing all they can to support and update their brilliant teams, from the strict social distancing and hygiene measures they’ve put in place at their sites, to furloughing where necessary.”
Marks and Spencer has announced that staff continuing to work in stores and its supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic will receive a 15% pay rise while furloughed staff will receive full pay.
The retail giant temporarily suspended its Clothing & Home operations and closed its outlet stores last week.
M&S Foodhalls remain open and the chain said it has taken more steps to protect the health of staff and customers in store including providing frontline workers with plastic face shields and installing protective sneeze guards at checkouts.
“We are actively encouraging social distancing in our Foodhalls, and have already introduced a number of measures to help colleagues stay healthy and enable customers to shop for the essentials they need with confidence — from floor markings to the introduction of sneeze guards at till points,” M&S retail director Sacha Berendji said.
“The latest measure is the introduction of reusable face shields, which will be distributed to our hard working teams this week.”