John Lewis call centres remain open despite coronavirus

One worker said staff were "extremely worried".

Customer service agents for John Lewis are “extremely worried” about catching the coronavirus as they continue to work from a busy call centre, one staff member has said.

The employee, who did not want to be named, handles John Lewis’s repair and gurantee queries but is directly employed a company called Sitel in Exeter city centre.

The person said that Sitel’s management had not even introduced social distancing until Tuesday. Before that, hand sanitiser was the only measure taken.

They said that the risk of infection had been made worse by an increase in staff caused by Sitel gaining a contract with Public Health England to run their coronavirus hotline. Public Health England did not reply to a request for comment.

They said that management had started on Wednesday to send a couple of people home, rightly starting with the most vulnerable. However, the staff who remain in the office are “extremely worried about getting infected and taking it home to their families,” the source said.

The source said that their work is not “essential” at all and that many John Lewis customers had said they were shocked that the office was still open. “Doesn’t stop them calling though,” the source added.

Commenting on these allegations, Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: “No workplace that cannot guarantee that it can comply with the official public health advice on physical distancing and other safety measures should still be operating.”

John Lewis’s in-house call centre in Hamilton in Scotland also remains open. John Lewis said the majority of staff were working from home and that “almost all” would be working from home by early next week.

The fact that John Lewis’s call centres remain open was first reported by Novara Media, who interviewed sources who claimed that many other non-essential jobs were continuing too.

When contacted, Sitel referred Left Foot Forward to a statement which says: “Currently, our UK sites remain open so that we may continue supplying essential business support to Key Public Services and essential business including healthcare, insurance, public sector, telecommunications and the food chain.”

“We have directed all sites to follow stricter social distancing practices in line with recent government directives and increased cleaning measures to ensure our teams, including those with key and essential workers status, have every resource available to continue serving communities in the safest manner possible. We are also implementing Sitel at Home solutions when possible.

A spokesperson for John Lewis said: “At Sitel’s Exeter site, a small number of people work on behalf of John Lewis & Partners providing important customer service and technical support. This is particularly important to our customers at a time when our branches have closed.”

“Sitel has confirmed it has put in a raft of measures to ensure staff are able to adhere to social distancing guidance. Many are already working from home and Sitel is working to enable everyone in the centre to do so as soon as possible.

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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