'Rogue businesses are prioritising profiteering' during coronavirus crisis, MP warns

Hull MP Emma Hardy has said she is “alarmed” at the number of “rogue businesses who are prioritising profiteering” during the coronavirus crisis by failing to protect their employees’ welfare.

In a letter written to all businesses in her constituency of Hull West and Hessle, the Labour MP said she was keen to support all businesses through the difficult period and wanted them to succeed.

But that she had also been inundated with concerns from workers who felt they were not being protected while still having to go to work.

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And she warned that punters would remember who did not treat employees well after this period had passed.

Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy. Photo: JPI MediaHull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy. Photo: JPI Media
Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy. Photo: JPI Media | jpimediaresell

Ms Hardy said: “I have been alarmed to receive so many emails from residents who have been told by their employer that they must still go to work, despite not being classed under the latest guidelines from the Government as a “key worker” or working for an “essential business”.

“I am deeply concerned that there are rogue businesses who are prioritising profiteering over the health and wellbeing of their employees.

“When this crisis is over local people will remember the businesses who helped and supported the community and those who didn’t, and any short-term gain may be short lived. I sincerely hope that such businesses will reconsider for the sake of themselves, their employees, their families and their reputation as a business and as an employer.”

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Businesses are not obliged to close if they are not counted as essential, but they have been told to enforce social distancing measures and make the environment safe for staff.

Ms Hardy said she believed it should not have been left to businesses individually to decide which could open, and Government should be more clear in the guidance.

But she added: “If your business is considered essential during the Covid-19 pandemic and working from home is not possible, I ask you to ensure that everyone follows the Government’s advice, particularly to stay two metres away from others at all times, and have sufficient hand washing facilities, and opportunities, to avoid spreading the virus.

“I urge you to make provisions for your employees who are deemed as “at-risk” or who may live with someone who is deemed “at-risk”. These people will not be able to survive without any pay for 12 weeks as the current rate of Statutory Sick Pay is insufficient to live on for any sustained length of time.”

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On Tuesday York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell wrote to Boris Johnson, urging him to introduce strict and enforceable closure of all non-essential workplaces.

Ms Maskell, who is also Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, said many workers in non-essential industries were continuing to work despite the coronavirus crisis.

She said she had received thousands of examples of people turning up to work in unsafe environments, where there was no personal protective equipment, little or no hygiene facilities or appropriate deep cleaning, and in many cases no social distancing.

Earlier this month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of measures to support workers and businesses, including the launch of a job retention scheme with HM Revenue and Customs paying the bulk of wages for workforces who are retained while not working.

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In her letter, Ms Maskell wrote: “I have received thousands of examples of workers continuing to work in non-essential industries.

Workers have reported the unsafe environments that they are working in where there is no appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), often little or no hygiene facilities or appropriate deep cleaning, and in the vast majority of examples, no social distancing practices.

“As a result of this, workers are not only being exposed to the risk of infection, but risk spreading coronavirus too.”

Ms Maskell also outlined the risk of workers who are made to attend work having to use crowded public transport, risking further spread of the disease.

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She added: “NHS staff, GPs, community pharmacists, food retail staff and all in essential public-facing roles are continuing to work without the necessary PPE, thus putting their health at risk.

“I have already written to the Business Secretary (Alok Sharma) to call for this to be addressed, including for a national manufacturing effort to scale up the production and distribution of PPE, and yet this situation continues.

“We know that the escalation of coronavirus is stretching vital NHS resources, however the thousands of examples of bad employment is just compounding the risk we all face.

“I urge you to introduce strict and enforceable closure of all non-essential workplaces, ensuring that all workers’ lives are protected until it is safe for business to resume according to safe working practices.

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“Labour would support such measures being implemented with immediate effect with adequate resourcing of measures to monitor and enforce this safety regime.”

On Tuesday Cabinet minister Mr Shapps said, in relation to non-essential workers still using public transport, crashing the economy could have worse implications than coronavirus itself.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The Government’s view is that we need to be in a position where when this lifts we are able to re-start the economy.

“There are risks in every direction. This is one of those crises where there are no really great options.

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“But one of the things we need to be careful not to do is completely crash our economy to the point where it is impossible or very difficult to pick up again afterwards.

“So we have been straightforward and said, if you’re a key worker go out, but if you can’t do your job from home then it is acceptable to go out and do that work.

“Otherwise, we will be in a position where we can’t re-start the economy and millions of people will be forced into a poverty situation that would do more harm than the virus itself. That’s really the balance.”