Three local MPs—Tony Lloyd, Debbie Abrahams, and Jim McMahon—have written to Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, demanding clarity about whether local warehouse workers in the online retail industry are essential workers or not.
Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale, said “Local workers are understandably concerned and need clarity.
“The brutal facts, and these are brutal facts, are that people will contract coronavirus and, or, pass on the virus to vulnerable loved ones if they are expected to continue to work, particularly in these large-scale, warehousing conditions.”
The letter to the Business Secretary was sent by the MPs after they were each contacted by constituents who work in a number of warehouse and distribution businesses operating in Rochdale and Oldham.
In addition to writing to the businesses concerned, and contacting trade unions representing these workers, the MPs have also had conference calls with senior managers from the businesses.
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said “The issue we’ve raised is about the number of workers there are in large warehouses, supporting the online retail industry, in the Oldham and Rochdale areas and whether they come under the definition of essential or non-essential businesses.
“The Government’s attempt to bring about lockdown still lags some way behind other European countries, where this type of activity has been forbidden.”
Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton, said “Local employers in the North West, make the point that if the Government is urging these industries to remain open, then their competitors, overseas and domestic, will more than likely continue to trade, which in turn encourages them to follow suit. But companies have said if the Government orders closure, they will abide.
“We understand that there is an economic question in all of this, but ultimately, this has to be a question of individual health and safety, and through that a collective health and safety issue in pandemic circumstances.”
In the letter to the Business Secretary, the MPs write “Without government clarity and leadership many companies are uncertain about their own future, and are understandably worried about financial viability without greater support.
“It is essential that there is a clearer message that social distancing isn’t simply advisory, but mandatory with enforcement in the workplace. Where the nature of the business makes this impossible the government should extend support for larger companies with turnover above £45m, and consider more flexible options including widening coverage of the job retention scheme.
“In this context, that’s why we’re urging the UK Government to clearly define what are essential or non- essential industries and for them to instruct all those defined as non-essential businesses to close as soon as possible.”