Next to reopen South Elmsall warehouse next week, leaked emails suggest

Retailer Next is planning to reopen its South Elmsall warehouse after the Easter weekend, according to emails seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

The warehouse, on Field Lane, employs hundreds.
The warehouse, on Field Lane, employs hundreds.

The company said it is looking for a limited number of "volunteers" among its workforce to come back to the depot from Tuesday, April 14.

Next closed the warehouse, which employs hundreds of people, two weeks ago after a backlash against its initial decision to stay open when the UK was put into lockdown.

The firm said then it had listened to concerns raised by staff who'd said social distancing at the Field Lane depot was impossible while doing their jobs.

Images circulating on social media in March showed workers being forced to take lunch on the pavement outside the warehouse. Next closed the site days later.

But in an email to staff this week, Next said it was introducing "extensive" safety measures at the site and that only those who "want to return" will be expected to do so.

Those who do will be given a 10 per cent bonus on top of their salary. It's believed the reopening will not affect the pay of staff who've already been furloughed and will remain off work.

One local councillor branded the move "appalling" and said the company had put cash before people's wellbeing.

However, one anonymous worker, who'd criticised Next for its actions last month, said he believed the warehouse could run safely if the measures were properly enforced.

Labour councillor Steve Tulley branded the move "appalling" and said the site should remain closed.

Next was contacted for comment but hasn't responded.

But in its email to staff, seen by the LDRS, Next said: "We are aiming to recommence very limited online trading from Tuesday, April 14.

"The idea is to start with very low volumes so that we only need a small number of people in each warehouse at any one time.

"The decision to temporarily close out warehouses has enabled us to completely re-organise the way our warehouses work to enable rigorous social distancing.

"We have looked at everything from the way we walk through the site right through to the way we allocate work between you."

The firm also said it would not be asking, or allowing, workers in high risk groups or those reliant on public transport to come back to work.

But South Elmsall councillor Steve Tulley said he was unconvinced by the measures and that the warehouse should remain closed.

"I think it's appalling", he said.

"My wife works at the intensive care unit at Pinderfields Hospital and some of the stories she's coming home with every day would bring anyone to tears.

"This is a virus that's affecting everyone regardless of age or where you come from.

"People in a warehouse sorting out bikinis and flip flops is not going to help my wife, the NHS or anyone in the fight against this virus."

However, one staff member said they had no issue with the warehouse reopening, even though he would not be volunteering to return.

He said: "I am surprised, pleasantly, at how far they seem to have gone.

"It's not normal for them to be this nice to their workforce really.

"If everything I've read in the email is adhered to and done properly then I think it can operate safely."

Local Democracy Reporting Service