Next claims it's a 'responsible employer' following public backlash over treatment of warehouse workers in South Elmsall after lockdown

Retailer Next has called itself a "responsible employer" and highlighted "good practice" at the company, months after a public backlash over its treatment of warehouse workers.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 4:24 pm
Updated Friday, 18th September 2020, 5:09 pm
Next runs a huge distribution centre on Field Lane in South Elmsall and has just received planning permission to expand onto nearby land.

The firm was widely condemned for telling staff at its South Elmsall distribution centre in March to take holidays or unpaid leave if they didn't want to work through lockdown.

Next initially claimed it was running an essential service but later backed down in the face of criticism from local councillors and MP Jon Trickett, and subsequently closed the site for around three weeks.

Now the company has cited praise from the trade union Usdaw, which counts warehouse workers among its members.

Images circulating on social media in March showed workers having to take lunch on the pavement outside the warehouse, which led to a wave criticism for Next.

Usdaw said in April that other employers should follow Next's example, following the social distancing and safety measures they put in place upon reopening.

The reference was made as Next received planning permission to build a new warehouse on land next to its existing site in South Elmsall, in a move it says will create around 1,000 new jobs.

Next representative Gary Robinson told a local planning meeting: "We will of course continue to provide good terms and conditions for our staff and be a responsible employers.

"I'd just like to highlight our efforts to maintain safety during Covid-19.

"We've been specifically praised by the union Usdaw and cited as an example of best practice to be used more widely.

"It's been a big effort to keep everyone safe."

What did Usdaw say?

Usdaw's statement came a day after Next reopened its warehouse on April 14 with "very extensive additional safety measures" in place and only small numbers of staff in at any one time.

The company said then it had listened to concerns raised by the workforce, though one local councillor said at the time that the the move to reopen the venue was premature and "appalling".

But in a statement on April 15, Usdaw's general secretary Paddy Lillis said: "This shows what can be achieved when a trade union and employer work together.

"The safety of our members is always paramount and we do not accept that standards should slip through the coronavirus emergency. We congratulate Next for doing the right thing, thank them for constructively working with our reps and officials and call on other employers to engage with us.

"Online retail relies on people working in warehouses, distribution centres and delivering to residential addresses. The government needs to act urgently to ensure that workers are protected and the risks are minimised. Next, working with Usdaw, has shown it can be done."

Local Democracy Reporting Service