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MPs warn bosses to stop forcing their staff to come in to work despite coronavirus crisis

A London bus driver wears a protective mask.

2 min read

A powerful committee of MPs has warned bosses to end "business as usual" and stop forcing non-essential staff to go to work during the coronavirus outbreak.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, published a selection of more than 1,000 emails she has received from anxious staff.

They include satellite TV engineers and estate agents ordered to enter people's homes despite the Government's guidelines on social distancing.

Others complained that their employers were providing them with no protective equipment to guard against catching the virus, while call centre staff said they were being forced to sit close to one another in small rooms.

Meanwhile, employees are also being forced to take public transport against government advice, despite not being classified as "key workers".

One estate agent told the committee: "The staff in the offices are not social distancing and the premises aren’t being sanitised.

"We have expressed our resentment at being forced to come to work and have been told to ‘take sick days or holiday’ to cover this period after these days have ran out they will pay us SSP [statutory sick pay]."

Another worker said: "Anyone who phones up and says a member of their family is sick with virus symptoms are not given any assurances that they won't be penalised if they stay off and self isolate so they are coming in to work. Call centres in general are a hotbed for disease as people share desks."

Labour MP Ms Reeves said: "From the evidence we’ve received it’s clear that many businesses are still not doing the right thing. This must change now.

"This is a health emergency – it cannot be business as usual. Workplaces, even those deemed ‘essential’, should be doing all they can to ensure that their workers are able to work from home or, if they do have to attend work, that they can undertake social distancing.

"Businesses need to stand by their workers and keep them safe. In time, businesses will have to answer for their decisions during this pandemic and whether they did the right thing."

Her comments came as the Government comes under increasing pressure to order the closure of building sites.

Boris Johnson has said they can stay open as long as workers keep at least two metres apart, putting him at odds with London mayor Sadiq Khan and the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Government has offered to pay 80% of staff kept on the payroll but unable to work during the outbreak.

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