FEARS of loss of pay may stop employees from speaking out about coronavirus symptoms and see them continue to work, putting their own and other people's lives at risk, a zero-hour contract worker has said.

Darlington woman Julie Meek was sent home from work, where she was contracted through an agency, on her second day of a four-week job, due to a cough.

The agency, she said, will not pay for more than the hours worked, despite assistance from the government to cover zero hours contracts.

Because the 52-year-old was a new employee, she had no previous monthly earnings to calculate an average income, which 80 per cent would then be covered, as per new government annoucements.

Instead, she was left wondering; "What am I going to live on?"

"It’s not just business as usual. People are just not going to declare symptoms if they are leaving themselves with nothing to live on," she said.

"They will cause the virus to spread more. It is killed the young as well as the old, it’s just something you do not want to get. But what do I do when the money runs out?"

Ms Meek, who has underlying health conditions, called the 111 helpline due to her cough, who said it may be the normal flu, as it is also going around, and was "not worried about it being coronavirus", though said to isolate.

"The agency didn’t even offer me other work, when they have a client in Northallerton. They didn’t even try to place me somewhere else, though now I do want to self isolate," she said.

"They said I would get paid if I sent an isolation letter."

"Everyone else is trying to help each other but they [the agency] are just going around like business as usual.

"They need to stop and think about the situation, other people are going to be going through this too, and more are going to die because they are going to work and not declare symptoms as they can't pay rent or bills."

Ms Meek reached out to Darlington MP Peter Gibson, who told The Northern Echo: "It's not possible to give an absolutely clear answer to every individual situation but there is a huge amount of work going into this, and every politician is feeding back to the government to ensure there are packages of support for everyone.

"If anyone thinks they are falling through the gaps and such annoucements do not reach them, then they must get in touch with me so we can see what we can do."

While more annoucements from government on employee rights are expected, the current "lack of clarity absence of financial support for insecure workers" has also been criticised by the worker's union Unite, which said millions of workers are "confused and in dread".

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, urged the government to work more closely with trade unions to get the correct measures in place for working people.

He said: "The stark reality is that millions of workers are confused about whether or not they can or should be at work.

"At the same time, the millions of self-employed and insecure workers across the country will dread being sent home because it means that they will have no wage.

"The government must work with trade unions to define the tougher isolation rules because we understand the reality of the workplace.

"Without swift clarity for millions of insecure and uncertain workers about whether they can be at work or not, and without removing the agonising choice between health and hardship, then the positive measures announced by the chancellor last week will be overshadowed and public health efforts will be severely compromised.

"Confused messages and lack of financial support are at odds with the urgency of this health emergency. Workers need clear direction and protection from government now."