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CORONAVIRUS LATEST: 'Irresponsible' employers warned to stop exploiting workers

First and Deputy First Ministers say enforcement action can and will be taken against non-essential businesses refusing to close

CORONAVIRUS LATEST: 'Irresponsible' employers warned to stop exploiting workers

The First and Deputy First Ministers have taken a strong line against 'irresponsible' business owners who remain open despite being non-essential and failing to adequately protect their staff.

Speaking at a press conference this evening, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Take responsibility for your workers.  Today we are hearing about irresponsible business owners exploiting workers during this public health emergency.

"They're being given no option from their employers other than to go to work whenever it's not safe to do so.  That has to stop, it must stop immediately and shame on any employer that is exploiting their workforce at this moment in time.

"Non-essential businesses close your doors, stop using your workers in this way, send them home and let them stay there and if you don't we will have to take action against you."

The country is dealing with a public health emergency, she said, and now is the time to do the right thing.

She acknowledged that these are difficult times for businesses but necessary measures have to be enforced to reduce the impact on the NHS and save lives.

A financial support package has been announced to ease the burden on local businesses.

Powers are also in place to take action against employers who are not heeding government advice and against citizens flouting social distancing protocols.

The First Minister Arlene Foster said they would be working with the PSNI to decide on appropriate fines but would prefer if it didn't come to that.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has an enforcement role and can take action against businesses.

"If you're a responsible employer you should want to comply with the advice given." Mrs Foster added.

Mrs O'Neill went on to say that if unsafe working practices are reported to HSE then it has to act on that and has a legal obligation to do so.

"Everybody should ask themselves this question, when you look back on this period in our history, did you really do the right thing and employers should really give themselves a shake if they are not doing the right thing.

"I would use every bit of legal power available to me to shut people down who are doing the wrong thing."

And those businesses who work to get government contracts 'won't be looked kindly upon' if they don't look after staff at this time.

A carpet manufacturing company which employs around 600 people has remained open in NI, asked if they felt that was an 'essential business', Michelle O'Neill said 'absolutely is not an essential service and should be shut down'.

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