Coronavirus: Sports Direct employees ‘outraged’ after being told to work despite stores being closed

‘I feel massively at risk and I feel like my health, life and family ... are undervalued,’ a factory worker says

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 24 March 2020 17:31 GMT
Doctor issues emotional plea to the public from the frontlines of London's coronavirus battle

Sports Direct employees have been left feeling outraged at being told they have to work despite stores being closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The retailer said it would shut stores in a major U-turn on Tuesday, after initially saying its high street shops would continue to sell sports and fitness equipment amid the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the company said its factories and warehouses would remain open and deliveries to customers would continue.

An anonymous employee told the PA news agency Sports Direct’s full-time shop staff are also being told they have to work in-store despite the closures in order to receive their wages, “doing tasks they deem as essential such as valuations for stock and web orders”.

“Part-timers are out of work now and we have no idea whether we can claim anything because technically they are still open,” they added.

Another worker, who also wished to remain anonymous and whose partner also works for the company, added: “While everyone else slated the company, the flexibility for me as a student and then a parent has always been great.

“However, I cuddled a scared and confused five-year-old to bed last night knowing that his mum and dad could risk potentially bringing in the virus for the sake of some fitness equipment.”

The company has not provided protective equipment and only recently heeded social distancing advice, the employee added.

“There have been no gloves sent to store and they only yesterday asked us to put a metre distance between ourselves and the customers by setting out a table for the chip and pins,” they claimed.

Factory worker Leonnie Foster, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, told PA she will have to continue in her role despite the announcement.

“We are expected to go into work with thousands of others and, due to the nature of the job, it is unrealistic to stand two metres away from people at all times,” the 18-year-old said.

“I feel massively at risk and I feel like my health, life and family, as I still live at home with my parents and sister, are undervalued.

“There are more workers at the factory than in shops so our chances of getting this virus are much higher ... the factory needs to shut as well to protect all the staff.”

Frasers Group, Sports Direct’s parent company, had written to all workers within 30 minutes of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announcing his decision to shut down non-essential retailers, telling them its business selling sporting and fitness equipment made it a vital asset during a national shutdown.

A 21-year-old Sports Direct supervisor said managers at their store are meeting on Tuesday to await news on whether they will need to continue working despite shop closures.

“I am outraged to work and commit to a company for over three years to be given no consideration for our health at all,” they told PA.

“I am going to think very carefully if this is a company I want to stay with and I will be seeking something else when this is all over for sure.”

A spokesperson for Frasers Group said: “Due to confusing guidelines issued by the government, we were simply seeking 100 per cent confirmation as to whether we should keep our sports / bike stores open.

“Frasers Group would and will follow whatever the government advises.”

It came as Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said sports shops were “not essential retail”.

Responding to questions from Labour in parliament, Mr Hancock continued: ”Therefore they will be closed. I’ve seen a little bit of the noise that’s been going around today around Sports Direct in particular.

“I’d just be absolutely clear that sports kit is not essential over the next three weeks and so we will be closing Sports Direct along with other non-essential retail.”

On the issue of fines for companies as well as individuals for flouting the new rules, Mr Hancock said: “Absolutely those fines are available if that is necessary.”

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