Warehouse worker says despite measures, it is impossible to make his workplace safe from coronavirus

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A warehouse worker has told of how he fears going to work as he said it was impossible to put adequate safety measures in place to protect him and his colleagues from the coronavirus.

Steve - not his real name - works at the Clipper Logistics warehouse in Tinsley, near Sheffield - which is used by clothing retailer Pretty Little Thing.

Since the coronavirus outbreak the warehouse has continued to operate as Pretty Little Thing, which is owned by retailer Boohoo, has continued trading.

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“I’ve got to go in,” Steve said. “They won’t furlough us and I need the money, my wife is begging me not to go in and I don’t want to take it home to her but I’m not well paid.

The Clipper Logistics/Pretty Little Thing warehouse in Tinsley. Photo: Steve ParkinThe Clipper Logistics/Pretty Little Thing warehouse in Tinsley. Photo: Steve Parkin
The Clipper Logistics/Pretty Little Thing warehouse in Tinsley. Photo: Steve Parkin

“It’s Pretty Little Thing so they sell clothing aimed at 18 to 24 year old women, it’s clearly not essential and it’s not like they can go out and show [the clothes] off.”

A spokesperson for Boohoo Group said: “The Government has issued clear guidance on businesses that are allowed to continue to operate and this includes all online retailers and therefore whilst permitted and it is safe to do so we will remain open.”

They said they were “closely following and strictly adhering to Government guidelines to keep everyone in our teams safe and well”.

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The spokesperson said the company was in “constant contact with the management team at the site to ensure that they too are implementing the stringent Government guidelines to protect the safety of their team”.

But Steve said despite measures being put in place, the nature of the work made it impossible to guard against the risks.

“It’s a warehouse and we have pickers, you can just about get two trolleys past each other in the aisles,” he said, and he added much of the equipment would have been used by multiple people in the course of one 12-hour shift.

“You’re still passing people, you’re still queuing for lockers where there are 100 other people. I see on the news about social distancing then there’s 300 of us all in the warehouse.

“People can’t afford to stay away.”

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It comes after The Guardian reported earlier this month that sales at fast fashion retailers including Pretty Little Thing has soared since lockdown began.

One worker told the newspaper: “We’ve had 400,000 orders built up over the last week. Normally there are 120,000 at any one time, at most. Even at Christmas and New Year we wouldn’t have anything like that much.”

And it reported both Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing had both launched 70%-off sales earlier in the month.

Labour’s Clive Betts, Sheffield South East MP, said he had received complaints from more than 50 staff and had written to the company and the local authority asking for environmental health inspectors to visit the warehouse.

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He said: “If they can’t operate safely, they should shut, simple as that.”

He said reassurances he had received from bosses did not tally with what employees were telling him, and in a letter the Boohoo’s chief executive John Lyttle he said: “you have provided me with the measures that you had introduced but if they are not being followed and implemented by the managers in the warehouse then they are completely redundant.”

This was echoed by Sheffield Heeley Labour MP Louise Haigh, who said: “The real risk to public health is in the tens of thousands of non-essential workplaces nationwide.

“As the tragic toll from Covid-19 climbs, it is simply unthinkable that the health of low-paid workers is still being put completely unnecessarily at risk. Nothing is more important than their health.”

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The Boohoo spokesperson said staff based in Sheffield as well as their Director of Supply Chain and Chief Executive had visited the warehouse “to ensure they are happy with everything that is being done”.

They said measures in place included additional cleaning, including deep cleaning “high touch point areas”, and only having one person picking per aisle.

They said break and shift times were staggered, two-metre distance markers were taped to the floor, and hand soap and sanitiser was provided.

They added: “There are extensive social distancing and hygiene measures in place across the site to ensure that everyone is adhering to the two-metre rule and stays safe.”