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Fashion chain Next closes warehouses following staff backlash

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Next initially classed its operations as “essential” and attempted to encourage staff in with a 20% pay rise. But has now decided to close its website

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Next, one of the UK’s biggest fashion chains, has been forced into a U-turn over its decision to keep warehouses open and ask workers to travel into stores for picking online orders.

The company will now shut its online operations from Thursday evening and stop taking orders.

Bosses have faced sustained pressure from politicians and staff, who felt like they were being pressured into stores.

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Simon Wolfson, chief executive of Next, has decided to close warehouses (Next/PA)

On Wednesday, it was revealed that the company had offered a 20% pay rise to any worker willing to continue picking jumpers, socks and other clothes for customers.

In a statement issued shortly after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that details of the Government’s support package for employers, Next said it “has listened very carefully”.

The company added: “It is clear that many increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate.

“Next has therefore taken the difficult decision to temporarily close its Online, Warehousing and Distribution Operations from this evening, Thursday 26 March 2020.

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“Next will not be taking any more Online orders after this time until further notice.”

There has been unease in the sector over the Government’s position with retailers continuing to trade online – with some reports of workers being forced into warehouses or risk losing their jobs.

Some companies, including McDonald’s and Greggs, have closed all operations, despite being able to continue offering takeaways under current lockdown rules.

And in retail, others have closed down online operations to protect staff from travelling and maintaining social distance.

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But some fashion retailers continue to run online operations, including Boohoo and Asos, despite the Government calling on all non-essential workers to stay home.

Next has struggled during the outbreak, at first insisting in official communications that it would be considering the company “essential” in the event of a lockdown.

This was changed and stores were closed, but some staff were still being asked to come to sites and pick for online orders.

But with pressure from MPs and reports of workers in warehouses not adhering to social distancing, Next made its latest decision on Thursday evening.

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