CONSTRUCTION workers building a new energy plant on Teesside have been sent home after a picture circulating on social media led to a backlash.

On Tuesday, '1,700' workers at MGT Teesside in Middlesbrough were pictured gathered together just hours after all non-essential businesses were ordered to close.

The GMB Union has since warned the manufacturing and construction industries to stop "ignoring" government advice to keep its employees at home due to COVID-19.

This afternoon, the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen revealed he had received notification that staff had been sent home in efforts to "protect staff health."

He said: “Following discussions with management and contractors, MGT have sent all staff home today.

"This is the right decision to protect staff health and the wider public from reducing the spread of the coronavirus in these extraordinary and unprecedented times.

“Work will continue with MGT to assess how work can recommence safely and within public health rules on social distancing, which will develop over the coming days. ​

“MGT are committing to try and prevent redundancies, and sub-contractors should contact HMRC to access the government support which is available to them.​

“It is absolutely essential in this time of national emergency that everyone pulls together and strictly follows the advice set out by the government.

"The message is crystal clear, everyone now needs to stay at home in order to protect our amazing health workers - if they do not more people will die.”

'Businesses are classifying themselves as essential'

Mark Wilson, regional organiser for the GMB Union, warned against manufacturing and construction industries "ignoring" government advice to stay at home.

He told The Northern Echo: "We’ve been receiving reports all across Teesside and County Durham from early morning today, that the Government advice to stay at home is being largely ignored by the manufacturing and construction industries, which is putting our members in immediate risk of being exposed to the infection unnecessarily.

"Our concern is that many businesses are classifying themselves as essential and key incorrectly as the Governmental advice was not clear enough.

"Our members are being asked to work as normal, without the ability to socially distance themselves properly and are clearly being put at risk.

"We are calling on all employers to abide by the instructions from Government to stay at home, furlough the workforce and pay the minimum of 80 percent of salaries that they can reclaim from the HMRC, and top up the other 20 percent themselves. 

"To do otherwise is to put peoples lives and those of their families at risk and take away the unnecessary position that people are being faced with - £94 per week statutory sick pay, or being put at risk by coming into work. Companies need to act and act fast, and this is a position which is being supported by our local MPs who are helping in this endeavour.

"Finally the Government should immediately review their advice and be clear that all employees apart from those clearly defined as key workers should stay at home."