CALLS to protect Marks and Spencer workers from the spread of coronavirus increased after distribution staff staged a third walkout over safety fears.

The GMB union said almost all warehouse staff walked out on Thursday after it claimed management failed to provide enough hand-sanitiser, gloves and PPE. It follows two previous walkouts on March 24 and 26. The union spoke out against DHL, which runs the Swindon warehouse on behalf of M&S.

But DHL denied that any workers had walked out last week and disputed the union's claims. 

GMB branch secretary Andy Newman said: “It’s been two weeks since workers first walked out over these concerns. DHL’s failure to provide adequate PPE and sanitation is incompetent and a disgrace. This has descended into a complete farce and Marks and Spencer now need to step in to ensure safe social distancing is enforced, and work practices are modified to meet government guidelines to prevent virus contagion. It’s the same in every other workplace, why does DHL think this is any different?”

“GMB spoke with Acas, the conciliation service, and outlined what we need DHL to put in place to ensure our members safety and while there have been some encouraging signs, we now need action.”

A M&S spokeswoman said that precautions were taken while they scaled back the work being done.

She said: “M&S fully supports the government’s efforts to protect the NHS and save lives.

“This does mean a change to our operations. We know these are difficult times and our logistics partners are doing all they can to support and update their brilliant teams, from the strict social distancing and hygiene measures they’ve put in place at their sites to furloughing where necessary.”

A DHL spokeswoman said: "We simply do not recognise the situation the GMB describes, nor its motivation in causing disruption when the country is united in fighting the Covid-19 virus.  

"Contrary to the GMB’s claim, no colleagues walked out yesterday, or on any other day this week. We are open to independent inspection to verify our social distancing measures and our operations are continuing, with close cooperation from our recognised trade union partner, Unite.

"Since the start of last week, the Swindon site has been following the government’s updated guidelines around social distancing, with clear enforcement by local management teams. Staff are briefed daily and Coronavirus and social distancing posters are clearly displayed throughout the site. Hand sanitiser stations are strategically located throughout and at the start of each shift colleagues are asked if they have any symptoms.

"Shifts and breaks are now staggered, with hazard tape used to demarcate muster points, the transport desk and security huts. Canteen hours have been amended with a limit of one person per table, and the cleaning schedule upgraded to include regular sanitising of all touch points including tables, vending machines and microwaves. A new cab cleaning process has also been implemented and chairs removed from meetings rooms to comply with social distancing regulations.”