WORKERS at a distribution centre say it is “busier than Christmas” with families buying non-essential items, triggering worries they are at risk with no personal protection equipment.

Staff at Argos’s warehouse in Basildon say it’s impossible to stay two-metres apart from other colleagues as homeowners order toys, garden furniture and appliances during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The firm has been accused of exploiting a loophole in the Government’s restrictions by keeping its branches open.

Despite Argos selling plenty of non-essential items, there are 300 Argos concessions inside Sainsbury’s stores which are open on a click-and-collect basis.

Gavin Callaghan, leader of Basildon Council, says he has been inundated with calls from workers and their families.

He said: “I can guarantee Argos’s head office staff are not working from their offices, and we are not asking bankers to work in these conditions, or corporate managers, so why are we asking working-class people who are at the bottom of the food chain, to risk theirs and their family’s lives for poor pay in cramped conditions. I don’t think it’s right.

“I’ve had more than 20 staff from the Argos distribution centre in Basildon get in touch with me concerned about the risk to their safety while working in the warehouse, which I’m being told is busier than what it is during Christmas.

“This is corporate greed and exploitative, and it should be clamped down on by the Government, and individuals need to take personal responsibility, and stop buying non-essential items.”

An employee, who did not want to be named, said: “Everyone is worried for their health and for the health of our loved ones. Not one person working in the warehouse believes we are essential workers.

“We are sending out toys, garden furniture, home appliances - not essential items we need in a lockdown.

“We are still receiving loads into the warehouse, processing store returns, and we even have our onsite technicians who are currently doing some painting to brighten up the warehouse.

“They have put in measures to reduce cross-contamination and have put the two-metres social distancing in place, but this is a working warehouse with more than 100 people working, making it impossible to keep two-metres away from people all the time.

“We are all using the same equipment and breathing in the same stale air. We were given a brief trying to convince us we’re essential workers and need to stay open for the country, but this isn’t right.”

The brief was sent around to all members of staff, which the Echo has seen.

It reads: “We’ve seen incredible demand for equipment to help people safely store the food they need, work from home, entertain and educate their children while schools are closed, do more cooking from home, stay fit and healthy, and stay connected with their loved ones.”

Sainsbury’s insisted they were taking precautionary measures to keep their staff and customers safe.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “The Government has been clear that online retailers should stay open as part of essential retail services.

“Argos is now an online retailer only, helping the millions of people now living and working entirely from home to have access to home office equipment, as well as items for educating and entertaining children and keeping families fit.

“The safety of our colleagues and customers is our highest priority and we have taken steps in all of our Sainsbury’s and Argos distribution centres.

"Specifically, at the Basildon Distribution centre we have introduced a number of new ways of working.

“These include, social distancing measures such as floor markings, provided hand sanitisers in offices and warehouses, additional cleaning of equipment, signage on hygiene and hand washing, and split breaks and social distancing in canteen.”