A logistics company that delivers luxury furniture for Marks and Spencer made call centre workers come in claiming they were “critical” to tackling coronavirus.
Wincanton logistics issued a bulletin, seen by Socialist Worker, on Wednesday outlining “your role as a key worker”. It said, “As you may be aware, last week the government issued a list of critical sectors in which employees are defined as key workers, whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response.
“Currently, all our open operations fall into this category.”
“To reassure you, we are operating within these government guidelines and we are ready to respond to any changes.”
One of the call centre staff, Ralph, told Socialist Worker, “We were told to carry the bulletin at all times in case police stopped us. If we were delivering PPE for hospitals or food I would understand. But delivering luxury furniture is a not ‘crucial to the Covid-19 response’.”
The Wincanton worker said bosses had been forced into a partial climbdown with some staff allowed to stay at home. But call centre staff still had to come in.
Ralph said, “On Friday we were told that they the company is cancelling all deliveries, but we’re still coming in and putting our health at risk.
“They sent out texts and emails telling people to contact us, when they do we have to tell them that they’re not going to get their furniture. I don’t understand why we’re still coming in, we’re still coming into contact with people and social distancing is not practical.”
Ralph added, “I’m not sure why they have made such a dramatic change like some other companies. The number of people in the call centre has been noticeably down as some people, who can afford to, say they’re self-isolating so they don’t have to come in.”
Wincanton’s actions underline how bosses have tried to keep making profits at the expense of workers’ health and safety.
Management texted Ralph on Monday night of last week saying the office would be closed until further notice. But the following morning workers were told to come in anyway—then had their lunch break docked for coming in late. Ralph said, “How can we keep coming in when there will be nothing to do, but the issue for us is pay.”
“If you have to self-isolate, we’ve been told to use our annual leave. Some people have a nest egg stashed away or savings and can afford to stay off, but I certainly cannot do it. I think we shouldn’t be coming into the office and be on full pay—we’re on the minimum wage, it’s not exactly a lot.”
“Some of the furniture we deliver to people costs more than I make in a month.”
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