Matalan has announced all warehouse staff will be offered furlough leave in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The GMB said the move was a “massive win for victory and common sense”, and came after the union and workers put “sustained pressure” on the retailer.
The union said that the “massive pressure” was applied after it emerged that the company was ignoring guidelines and putting workers in danger through continued operation.
Workers at the Knowsley Distribution centre said they were being forced to continue working in “cramped, overcrowded conditions”, with bosses failing to comply with government advice on social distancing and stopping operations.
The union said the company has now “done the right thing” by putting employees on a furlough scheme so that they will receive 80% of their wages.
Shaun Buckley, GMB regional organiser, said: “This is a big win for the health and safety of our members – not to mention plain common sense.
“We were inundated with messages from worried GMB members in a state of panic that Matalan bosses were putting workers and their families’ lives at risk.”
He added: “But after sustained pressure from GMB, Matalan workers and local politicians the company has caved and is now doing the right thing.”
In response, a spokesperson for Matalan said: “Over the past few days, we are pleased to have received approval from both the Environmental Health Officer (the EHO) and a representative of the GMB, who have both visited our Knowsley DC and have both deemed the site safe to work.
“Furthermore, since these visits we shut down our warehouse for 3 days to undertake a deeper clean of the site.”
They added: “We are taking our responsibility as a large North West employer to look after our staff extremely seriously. We are therefore now going one step further and all our colleagues are being offered the option to stay at home and be placed in furlough from the 30 March for the time being.
“This will ensure that those who choose not to come to work, have access to government support packages where available.”
The group will continue to operate online, with “continued strict health and safety regimes” in place. It said it is closely following government guidance and will operate warehouses with a “number of precautions” in place.
In response to Matalan’s claims, Buckley said: “It is categorically untrue to say GMB has declared the Matalan site safe.
“I personally visited the site yesterday during a skeleton shift and observed social distancing measures were in place, but I’ve raised concerns about social distancing protocols for when the site has three hundred staff rather than a third of that number as was the case yesterday.”
He added: “We do welcome the measures that have been implemented already that include staggering shift changeover times to reduce congestion.
“The company has given undertakings that they will address these concerns, and that hand sanitiser and gloves will eventually arrive – but we’ll believe it when we see it. It does not bode well that Matalan appears to believe no further action is required to create a safe working environment.”