Labour has called on the government to close non-essential workplaces such as call centres and factories amid concerns staff are being put at risk of coronavirus in unsafe working environments.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, shadow employment minister Rachael Maskell said many people were continuing to work without protective equipment and adequate hand washing facilities, despite the warning from the government that non-essential workers should stay at home during the coronavirus crisis.

Shops selling unnecessary goods were told to close last week but businesses such as those with call centres, factories and warehouses are continuing to operate.

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Loopholes in financial support from the government have forced some people to continue to work, with concerns about access to statutory sick pay and delays to delivery of an aid package for the self-employed.

Ms Maskell demanded “strict and enforceable closure” of non-essential workplaces to protect staff after receiving thousands of reports of people working in unsafe environments.

She said: “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.”

Workers are also putting themselves and others at risk by travelling on crowded public transport, she added.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a multibillion-pound package of support for businesses and workers hit by the coronavirus crisis, including a retention scheme for workers with the state paying wages for staff to prevent mass redundancies.

But some unscrupulous employers have told people they must continue to work or risk losing their jobs, Ms Maskell said.

She added: “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.”

It comes amid a growing row over a “huge oversight” in the coronavirus job retention scheme which has led to workers being laid off across the country.

Mr Sunak said employers can claim a grant covering 80 per cent of the wages for a furloughed worker – to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

But the fine print revealed workers must have been on their employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 28 February – three weeks before Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures.

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