Asos has denied claims from union GMB that its warehouse in Grimethorpe, Barnsley, is unsafe for workers under new coronavirus public health guidelines.
A GMB survey of 500 workers from the warehouse found that 98% felt unsafe and reported no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking-in system that requires large amounts of people to gather in a small area, and hundreds of workers all breaking for lunch at the same time.
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Conditions at Asos are scarcely believable. Here you’ve got people packed onto public transport, a lack of social distancing, thousands of workers going into one warehouse then back to their families.
”We no longer believe Asos can keep their workplace safe – they need to shut it down.”
However, Asos has rebutted the claims.
A spokesman for the etailer said: “These allegations 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 [trade union] Community 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.”
Asos said it had taken additional steps including reducing the number of employees working at any one time and enforcing strict social distancing through work and relaxation areas. It has also put on extra buses to the site to facilitate social distancing and provided a stipend of £100 a week to cover other forms of transport, as well as offering additional personal protective equipment to staff who request it.
Community, the union that represents more than 2,000 workers at the Asos site, said: “We have been working with our members and the company for weeks to make improvements to the way the site operates, including introducing personal protective equipment and a new cleaning regime.
Community said it had been on site on Monday and Tuesday to listen to members and take further action to improve safety.
A Community spokesman said: “We have seen some significant improvements over the past two days. However, if the full changes cannot be implemented effectively and rapidly, then they should cease operating.
“There are clearly issues across the sector, and the government needs a sector-wide approach, which would also include the operations of delivery companies. It’s the unions’ role to ensure employers make workplaces safe and, if they’re not, they shouldn’t be continuing operations.”
Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council has supported Asos and the conditions at its warehouse.
He said: “In response to the concerns we received, our regulatory services visited the site on 27 March 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.
“The company is following national government advice in terms of remaining operational, protecting the welfare of their employees and constantly reviewing how additional measures can be introduced where necessary.
“There are visual markers, frequent reminders, additional cleaners, new eating arrangements, dispersal of lockers and available hand sanitiser around the site.
“We are following government guidance that businesses who can operate safely should remain open. XPO Logistics [which runs the warehouse] are the largest private employer in the borough, making an important contribution to our local economy and we will continue to support them and all other Barnsley businesses to remain open during this period.”
An XPO spokeswoman said: “We’re supporting our colleagues by adhering to UK government and Public Health England guidance. As the situation evolves, all appropriate health and safety measures are being put in place, alongside regular two-way communication, which ensures staff are kept informed, and we’re listening to any concerns they may have.”