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Employees confused as production continues despite Government lockdown

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | Business | Published:

Confusion reigns for many employees over whether their workplaces should be open, with a number of non-essential businesses still trading in Shropshire despite the Government's lockdown.

One of the biggest areas of confusion surrounds factories and manufacturing, which were not included in the list of businesses told to shut by the Government.

The guidance issued following the Prime Minister's address to the nation included a swathe of businesses which were ordered to shut, including the majority of retail and hospitality outlets.

Other workplaces have only been told to "encourage employees to work at home wherever possible."

However a number of staff at manufacturing firms across Shropshire and Telford have contacted the Shropshire Star to express their surprise that their firms are still running as normal.

Furlough

The Government has sought to protect jobs by allowing firms to 'furlough' workers for three months.

That means if firms are unable to pay wages due to Covid-19, instead of the worker being made redundant, they will cease work but still be paid 80 per cent of their wages via a Government grant.

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Workers remain classed as employed but are not allowed to actually work for the firm while being paid by the Government.

One worker from a major Telford business, who wished to stay anonymous, said he was shocked when he called his manager to find out he was expected to go in as normal.

Another said workers had only been promised statutory sick pay if they were self-isolating, while one said his employer was justifying the continuation in production due to the fact they supply printing cartridges to hospitals.

Meanwhile some staff said their bosses were asking them to continue working as normal on production lines despite that meaning they are not able to keep two metres away from each other.

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What does the guidance say?

The following is from the Government's "full guidance on staying at home and away from others" published on March 23:

"People can travel to and from work, but only where the work they do absolutely cannot be done from home.

"With the exception of the organisations covered in the section on closing non-essential shops and public spaces, the Government has not required any other businesses to close – indeed it is important for business to carry on.

"Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

"Sometimes this will not be possible, as not everyone can work from home. Certain jobs require people to travel to their place of work – for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or are delivering front line services.

"Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).

"Work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms. Again, it will be important to ensure that Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a two-metre distance from any household occupants, are followed to ensure everyone’s safety.

"No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.

"No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

"As set out in the section on closing non-essential shops and public spaces, the Government has ordered certain businesses and venues to close. "

Elsewhere

Aircraft manufacturer Bombardier is a major employer which has suspended production at its operations until April 20.

Some employees in Northern Ireland will continue in business critical roles during the four-week shut down.

The period will consist of three weeks when employees will come under the Government's Job Retention Scheme guidelines and a week of Easter vacation on full pay.

A Bombardier spokeswoman said: "In the current unprecedented circumstances, we want to make the best decisions possible for our people, our communities, the wider Northern Ireland society, and the sustainability of our business.

"As the UK ramps up efforts to delay the spread of Covid-19, and following announcements from Bombardier Aviation on the closure of sites in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, we have made the decision to stop production temporarily at all our Northern Ireland sites until 20 April. These measures will help us maintain as many people as possible in full-time employment.

"Critical support will be required to continue during the furlough and therefore some employees will be required to work during this time, obviously continuing to maximise working-from-home opportunities and the safest working practices."

The spokeswoman added: "We look forward to being fully operational again shortly to ensure the continued success of our business in Northern Ireland."

It came as Mike Ashley's Sports Direct hiked prices by more than 50 per cent on some sports equipment on Tuesday, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to internal documents seen by the PA news agency.

And another of his Frasers Group retailers, Jack Wills, was forcing staff into stores despite Government advice to stay at home unless you are an "essential" worker, employees told PA.

Frasers had previously tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit.

But after a public backlash the stores, along with Evans Cycles, were closed.

However, there were still reports of workers being told to arrive at stores against Government advice.

In one message sent to staff on Tuesday morning, the company wrote "we will not open our Sports Direct or Evans Stores to the public" before adding "please continue to head into work as we have been instructed last night".

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