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Sports Direct warehouse workers in Derbyshire are continuing to work amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Now the company again finds itself accused of ignoring government guidelines, designed to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease.
The Unite union claim that some workers with underlying health conditions have been threatened with dismissal if they attempt to self isolate.
Sports Direct's giant Shirebrook warehouse, at New Brook Business Park, in Derbyshire, employs an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 workers, as reported by Derbyshire Live.
Sports Direct had provoked fury on Monday, when, within 30 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to shut down all non-essential retailers, they emailed all employees insisting that stores would remain open.
Shortly after, they also pushed up prices on sports equipment by as much as 50 percent.
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And Local Shirebrook campaigners have been growing increasingly concerned that some Sports Direct workers are being pushed into turning up for work.
Additionally, it's claimed that the two metre distance rule, designed to lessen the chances of passing on Covid-19, was not being adhered to.
Now the Unite union has called on Sports Direct chief Ashley, also owner of Newcastle United, to send home workers on full pay to limit the spread of the disease.
Unite regional officer Cheryl Pidgeon said in a letter: "We have reports of workers being threatened with no jobs if they self-isolate when they have underlying health concerns.
“We have reports of people being told not to bother about just having two people in the car when they drive to work but to come in ‘in fives’.
“We have photographic evidence of lack of products available for workers to wash as per government guidelines.
Sports Direct's Shirebrook warehouse
“We have reports of workers not staying two metres apart and photographic evidence of this.
“People are today still using scanners with their fingers and being searched closely.
“The products that many people are working on are not critical to the nation at this moment in time – we have photographic evidence of this also. There are many, many scared workers at the warehouse.
“These are decent human beings who have served Sports Direct loyally in difficult conditions on low wages and many are on non-permanent contracts.
"They are not fodder to make mass profit at the expense of their own health and safety, and that of their family. The work at the warehouse is not critical as per government guidelines.
“Many of the community are ex-miners with severe chest health problems – by not allowing workers to go home and stay safe you are putting local communities at risk.
“For the sake of the employees, the local community and the business reputation please allow workers to go home, stay safe and pay them their usual wages without loss of money.
“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of all workers at the warehouse – ask Mike Ashley, for once, to do the right thing by the workers – put them and not profit first.”
The first day of lockdown in North East Lincolnshire during the Coronavirus pandemic.
(Image: Jon Corken/Grimsby Live)
Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said: “When the history of the coronavirus comes to be written, Mike Ashley’s already besmirched reputation will be in shreds, unless he does the right thing and send his Shirebrook workers home on full pay for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.
“Ashley has become fabulously rich on the backs of low-paid workers – now is the time that he should rise above the ruthless pursuit of profit that has pockmarked his controversial career – the nation is watching.”
Sports Direct have simultaneously turned on the temporary recruitment agencies that provide staff to its controversial Derbyshire depot.
As the retailer attempts to fend off criticisms about safeguarding its workhouse workers' health amid the ongoing pandemic, the company appeared to admit to failures in following Covid-19 safety.
It said it was reviewing agency contracts because “in some cases we have struggled to enforce [with the agencies] that they adhere to government/WHO [World Health Organization] regulations”.
However, the decision over whether to keep the warehouse open is only down to Sports Direct.
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An email sent by a Sports Direct spokesman to the Guardian on Thursday said: “Our overriding concern is and always has been the welfare of all staff working at Shirebrook – full time employees and agency staff alike – with a commitment to guaranteeing hours for them all.
“We have strictly followed government/WHO guidelines and are continually advising and supporting our entire workforce so these new rules are enforced.
“For clarity, when coronavirus hit we were mid-tender with all of our agencies, having had concerns that some of the agencies were not looking after their staff.
“We are not downsizing but looking to work with responsible suppliers. This current, awful situation has only further highlighted how unreputable [sic] these agencies are; in some cases we have struggled to enforce that they adhere to government/WHO regulations.
"As a result we are currently reviewing our contracts.”
It's claimed that the spokesperson attempted to recall the email sent to the newspaper, stating that it had not been approved by Sports Direct’s legal department and that there was now no review.