Outlets of UK game and entertainment retailer CeX are continuing to have staff travel to work. This update comes after the chain closed its corporate-owned and franchised stores to the public and the UK government subsequently announced new lockdown measures to arrest the spread of COVID-19 (a.k.a. the novel coronavirus).
The second-hand retailer announced that it was closing its shops across the country yesterday, following increasingly public concerns and complaints from employees fearful of transmitting or contracting the virus. IGN has obtained a follow-up memo from corporate management, which asks teams of 2 employees to travel to closed shops in order to fulfil online orders, as well as empty cash tills and safes.
This memo was sent before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address yesterday evening, which put the UK into a form of lockdown. Asked for comment on whether that policy would continue after the government’s new measures, CeX’s UK marketing team says that members of corporate-owned stores (i.e. not franchises) are being asked to go into stores on a “purely voluntary basis”, something the original memo confirms. According to two current employees, both from corporate and franchise stores, those now forced to stay at home will receive at least the UK government’s 80% mandated pay.
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“None of our colleagues are being ‘sent’ or forced to work in CeX Corporate locations” reads the CeX statement. “It is a voluntary request and we are limiting the numbers of colleagues in each location to ensure safe social distancing can take place. We expect the same approach from our franchised stores.”
That same approach doesn’t seem to be happening at franchised stores as at corporate-owned stores, however. Despite that corporate expectation, multiple members of staff from CeX franchises have contacted me (under condition of anonymity, due to fears of management retaliation), to say that managers and supervisors aren’t being given the option to volunteer, but being told to go to work as normal. It’s unclear how strict that ruling is, and it likely varies from franchise to franchise, but one employee told me they were frightened that any future redundancies would hit those in their franchise who said they wouldn’t go in.
A franchise employee, a supervisor for their store, has explained that managers have been asked not only to fulfil orders, but clean their shops and fill out routine paperwork. The same employee explains that some CeX outlets are within shopping centres, which have closed their bathroom facilities, meaning employees can’t wash their hands as instructed by NHS guidelines.
The CeX marketing team statement points out that the company is working within current UK government advice. While shops selling goods deemed non-essential (including entertainment products) have been told to close in the UK, online delivery businesses have been allowed to remain open, and travel to places of work for employment that cannot be completed from home has been permitted when “absolutely necessary”. CeX operates online delivery services from both warehouses and its stores, meaning online retail work technically takes place in both.
“This is common with many retailers and if anything [working in stores], allows greater self distancing than many warehouse facilities” the statement continues. “Most CeX stores are large locations with big open floor space.”
Two franchise employees have separately pointed out that, while this is true of floor space in their stores, all stock is stored behind cash desks, meaning workers have significantly less space to keep the advised distance away from one another than the floor plans of stores would suggest.
While CeX is abiding by current government advice and regulations, staff who have contacted me today remain afraid that, by being asked to continue to travel to work, working with stock passed on by customers within the coronavirus outbreak timeline, and working in smaller spaces, virus transmission remains a distinctly higher possibility for them than those who are staying at home today. Undoubtedly, some responsibility lies at the feet of the UK government’s approach to locking down the country, but that isn’t likely to ease employees’ fears.