England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Covid-19 and non essential workplaces: “we got told to wipe down our desks once”

I have been working in the debt management industry for almost three years now and it has always been a very harsh industry in regards to how workers are treated. No company I have had experience with has even entertained trade union recognition so the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic was always going to be a poor one in my opinion.

The day after the government announced the lock-down to prevent the spread of the virus, the owner of my company called a meeting with all members of staff to address staff concerns. He spent the first five minutes explaining why he thought our concerns were embarrassing and we should stop listening to social media. This was then followed up with 10 minutes of speculation courtesy of his friends and family, who are bankers and politicians, about why everybody was worrying too much and that despite being a sales company we deal with money so we were ‘essential workers’.

As you can imagine, following this meeting the mood among my colleagues was very negative, with a lot of people I spoke to correctly feeling that their health was being put at risk in the name of profit. Others were worried about how they would be able to pay their bills due to the lack of sick pay. By this point I had developed symptoms myself and, the following day, I made the decision to go home and self isolate. Up until this point, no measures had been put in place to protect staff. We were still all cramped into an office with no distance between us. We got told to wipe down our desks once. That was it.

After coming back from my self isolation small steps had been made to protect people. There had been desk moves and there was a large tub of hand wash at the entrance to the office. But people who could work from home were still in the office because the owner is paranoid about us selling data on to competitors. He was also worried that productivity would take a hit. One anonymous colleague called the police about the situation in the office. But when they came the following day, people were hidden in meeting rooms to make the office look more empty than it was.

Last week, I was placed on furlough for three weeks along with another member of my team. I was told that I would be paid in April as normal but, going forward, I will only be paid as and when the government makes the money available. So I have been put in a position where I am potentially relying on my partner to survive from next month, as I may be on furlough for longer than the initial three weeks .

From speaking to a family member who is a Unite rep it is clear that myself and my colleagues who have been furloughed are being taken advantage of, as not only are the company not making up the remaining 20% of our wages, but they are willing to withhold our pay until they are able to claim it back. Most of the staff are still in their probation period and to my knowledge I am the only union member in the company, so we have been left wide open to exploitation. I have been told that my job is safe and when the workload on my team increases I will be brought back. But only time will tell how this will affect me long term.

Socialist Alternative says:

Workers must get organised. For a mass union-led campaign to close all non-essential workplaces, with workers democratically deciding what is and isn’t ‘key work’.

No to job losses – for full pay for all furloughed and self-isolating workers. No workers should economic hardship because of Covid-19. Make the rich bosses pay.

Nationalise the major monopolies that dominate our economy under c workers’ control and management. That way, our economy could be democratically planned to make sure everyone’s needs are met, and human health and well-being is prioritiesd.


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