ASOS accused of ‘playing Russian roulette with people’s lives’ as huge warehouse remains open

The clothing and cosmetics giant ASOS has been accused of ‘playing Russian roulette with people’s lives’ by keeping its huge Barnsley warehouse open during the coronavirus crisis.

Monday, 30th March 2020, 11:58 am
Updated Friday, 8th May 2020, 11:51 am

Around 3,500 people are employed at the depot, according to the retailer, which says up to 500 work on site at any given time.

The trade union GMB claims social distancing measures requiring people to be at least two metres apart are being flouted at the site, putting workers at higher risk of infection.

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An ambulance outside the ASOS warehouse in Barnsley (pic: GMB)

It claims workers there have reported no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking-in system causing large groups to congregate and hundreds of workers gathering in close proximity for lunch, though ASOS refutes those allegations.

One worker said ‘it'll be like a domino effect. If one gets it, we'll all get it and people will lose their lives’, while another commented ‘they are playing roulette with people’s lives’.

A third added: “I’m currently in isolation as I live with someone who is high risk. However, because I have been told I am not sick myself I will not be entitled to sick pay. So I’m currently off work unpaid.”

GMB organiser Deanne Ferguson said: “The situation at ASOS is disgusting – thousands of people under one roof, not enforcing social distancing.

“It looks exactly like a hot bed of infection – and workers are very scared.

“ASOS needs to put people before profits and make sure workers are the are distance apart and paid properly if they need to take time off.”

Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, said ASOS staff ‘shouldn't have to put theirs and their family’s wellbeing on the line for a pay cheque’.

A spokesman for ASOS said: “We totally refute these allegations. They are false and do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time.

“As directed by the Government, and with support from the Community Union 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.

“In addition, the Environmental Health Officer visited the site on Friday and confirmed he was happy with the protocols we have in place.”

Responding to specific concerns voiced by workers, ASOS said the warehouse measures 680,000 square feet and ‘all appropriate social distancing measures’ are in place there.

The firm added that shifts were finishing up to 30 minutes early so workers could leave in a staggered fashion, while indoor turnstiles were kept permanently open to avoid bottle-necking.

And it said ‘social distancing protocols’ were in place in the canteen, smoking area and locker rooms, with dedicated staff monitoring those areas to further enforce social distancing.

The Government has ordered businesses including clothing stores to close to curb the spread of COVID-19 but many online retailers are still trading, and employees have been told they may still travel to work provided they cannot do so from home.