// Next offers 20% boost to basic pay for staff who turn up to stores to help with online orders
// Worried staff question this as the government called for all non-essential workers to avoid unnecessary travel
// Next stressed the new arrangements were completely voluntary and no-one was under any obligation
Next is offering staff a 20 per cent boost to their pay if they turn up to stores to help with online orders, despite government orders for fashion shops to close during the coronavirus pandemic.
The fashion retailer is asking workers to travel to temporarily-shuttered sites and pick clothes for online orders “to keep the company operating”, according to a letter seen by the PA news agency.
However, worried staff have questioned whether picking clothes is an “essential” job at the same time the government called for all non-essential workers to avoid unnecessary travel as the country grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday night that the public “must stay at home” unless they work in a key sector or industry.
This includes some shops such as grocers, pharmacies, pet shops and hardware stores, among others.
While retailers can still trade online, the government is now under pressure to intervene to end the confusion about which businesses can continue to operate.
A letter sent to Next employees on Tuesday evening said: “We need to keep the online business functioning to be certain that Next emerges from this short term crisis.
“To help us, we are looking for a small number of staff to attend work to pick and process the stock in our stores that customers have purchased online and keep the online business going.
“We will only look to achieve this on a voluntary basis.”
Next bosses also laid out a series of measures to ensure social distancing and a clean work space, including limits on the number of people in each store and rules that items are only touched by one person.
“We fully understand that many of you have great concerns about attending work,” the letter read.
“Please let me reassure you that we are in no circumstances going to ask anyone who is unsure about coming to work to do so.”
Many workers in the retail and construction sectors have said they feel they have little choice but to head to work, leading to images of overcrowded trains emerging on social media.
Next said in the letter: “We desperately need your support to keep the company operating and we hugely appreciate your help in this.
“If there are any reasons why you personally feel that it is not appropriate for you to work, we will be understanding.
“For example if you are caring for a vulnerable person at your home, if you cannot manage your childcare, if you cannot travel safely to work, or any other reason.”
Further on, it said: “To show our appreciation, if you attend work you will be paid an additional 20 per cent of your basic rate of pay for all hours worked until Saturday 11th April.
Up until last week, Next was telling staff on its internal systems that the retailer considered its “operations as essential”.
Next chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson said a week ago he wanted the government to step up its efforts to support workers and warned of a hit to the non-food sector not seen since the 1973 oil crisis.
A spokesman for Next told PA: “A very small number of staff at any one time are required to help with online orders.
“This will enable social distancing whilst these tasks are performed.”
The spokesman also stressed the new arrangements were completely voluntary and no-one was under any obligation to turn up to work.
On the retailer’s essential status, he said: “The government has now told us otherwise and before it did, Next had already closed all its stores.”
It comes after Sports Direct faced heavy criticism over its initial attempts to claim to be “essential” in keeping the nation fit during the lockdown.
Bosses later retreated, although not before raising the prices on dozens of exercise products.
with PA Wires