Row erupts after staff were 'unfairly' sacked from Portsmouth coronavirus testing hub

DISGRUNTLED workers sacked from a coronavirus testing hub have lashed out over ‘toxic’ working conditions and insisted their firing was ‘unfair’.

By Tom Cotterill
Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 7:00 am

Six staff members were culled from the facility based in the car park behind the University of Portsmouth’s Eldon Building ‘without any chance of appeal’ after having taken a coronavirus test before Christmas.

Contractor Sodexo, which runs the Bedford Street-based site, said the way staff had acted had breached the company’s employment rules, which were revised in November.

But furious workers insisted they had been told by management in August they were allowed to take a test during their four-day rotational shift, and had not been made aware of any changes to the rules.

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The coronavirus testing station in the car park behind the Eldon Building at the University of Portsmouth Picture: Duncan Shepherd

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One of the sacked workers, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It was totally unfair. We were all shocked when we were told. We couldn’t believe we were facing losing our jobs because of this.

‘We were told right at the start of our contract that we could take a test at our own discretion to give us all peace of mind. We had been working on the front line, testing people, and we were just thrown away like this.’

The mass firings came just days before the New Year, as pressure on city’s testing centre reached a new high.

The coronavirus testing station in the car park behind the Eldon Building at the University of Portsmouth Picture: Duncan Shepherd

Two employees reportedly walked out in protest over the situation – something which Sodexo has denied.

The situation came to light a week earlier, after a supervisor had tested positive for coronavirus and was sent home.

Despite strict social distancing rules in place, some of the staff at the site took a coronavirus test following the result of their teammate.

However, under company rules put in place weeks earlier, anyone taking a test must then go home and self isolate. A senior manager drafted to cover the ill supervisor then reported the staff for taking the test and not going home.

‘None of us were showing any symptoms at the time but we wanted to make sure we hadn’t become infected,’ a former worker told The News. ‘None of our management had told us about the new rules. We were not on rotation when the rules were changed and there was no handover from the other team.

‘The communication was terrible. It’s a toxic environment to be working in.’

The incident at the testing centre has since worried Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, who vowed to launch a probe into the situation.

The Labour shadow minister told The News: ‘These reports are deeply concerning and the welfare our front-line workers should never be compromised, wherever it can be reasonably avoided.

‘With local infection levels continuing to rise, it’s crucial we have testing centres that are run effectively and workers feel safe to come into work.

‘I will be following up with Sodexo to get to the bottom of this.’

Responding to the situation, a Sodexo spokeswoman: The health, safety and wellbeing of our employees and those we serve is our top priority.

‘We ended the employment of a small number of team members at the test centre after they were found to have breached their agreement with us.

‘We cannot provide any further details concerning an individual’s employment with us. We were able to fill the vacant roles quickly and at no time was the testing centre unable to provide the level of service it is required to provide. We have not experienced any team members leaving in protest of this action.’

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