Sports Direct employees have said they feel their lives are “undervalued” because they are still being made to work despite stores being closed to the public.
The retailer said on Tuesday that it would shut stores in a major U-turn after initially saying its high street shops would continue to sell sports and fitness equipment in the face of coronavirus.
However, the company said its factories and warehouses will remain open and deliveries to customers will continue, all with social distancing in place.
Factory worker Leonnie Foster, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, told the PA news agency she will have to continue in her role despite the announcement.
“We are expected to go into work with thousands of others and, due to the nature of the job, it is unrealistic to stand two metres away from people at all times,” the 18-year-old said.
“I feel massively at risk and I feel like my health, life and family, as I still live at home with my parents and sister, are undervalued.
“There are more workers at the factory than in shops so our chances of getting this virus are much higher … the factory needs to shut as well to protect all the staff.”
Frasers Group, Sports Direct’s parent company, had written to all workers within 30 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down non-essential retailers, telling them that its business selling sporting and fitness equipment made it a vital asset during a national shutdown.
Another worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said they have been with Sports Direct since they were 16, adding that their partner is also employed by the company.
“While everyone else slated the company, the flexibility for me as a student and then a parent has always been great,” they told PA.
“However, I cuddled a scared and confused five-year-old to bed last night knowing that his mum and dad could risk potentially bringing in the virus for the sake of some fitness equipment.
“I am disappointed (the announcement to close stores to the public) has not come from the company itself and am worried they find another loophole to continue us working. I have had no contact from them as of yet.”
The worker added that the company has not provided protective equipment and only recently heeded social distancing advice.
“There have been no gloves sent to store and they only yesterday asked us to put a metre distance between ourselves and the customers by setting out a table for the chip and pins,” they claimed.
A 21-year-old Sports Direct supervisor said managers at their store are meeting on Tuesday to await news on whether they will need to continue working despite shop closures.
“I am outraged to work and commit to a company for over three years to be given no consideration for our health at all,” they told PA.
“I am going to think very carefully if this is a company I want to stay with and I will be seeking something else when this is all over for sure.”
Sports Direct and Frasers Group did not immediately respond to a PA request for comment on the employees’ statements.