Thousands of warehouse workers at ASOS, the online fashion retailer, are facing tougher surveillance measures and the constant threat of random searches, the Independent has learned.

The news comes after MPs and unions warned that UK business are using temporary and agency staff to water down workers’ rights in retail, transport and other sectors.

Security measures at an ASOS warehouse near Barnsley have intensified to the extent that one worker was suspended for refusing a random search before she had finished her lunch.

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More than 4,000 workers at the distribution centre in Yorkshire are subject to constant CCTV surveillance and daily security searches. If a security alarm is triggered when they leave, staff must remove shoes and socks and submit to further searches.

One ASOS worker, who cannot be named, was recently suspended for refusing a search during her lunch break.

The employee had gone out to her car to eat during a break. She was approached by a security guard who requested to randomly search the car. 

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The worker then asked if she could finish her lunch before the search. When she got out of the vehicle, she said the security guard could carry out a search but the guard said it was too late.

“As soon as I was finished I went out of the car and told him he could check my car, he said he didn’t want to check my car anymore as I had already refused and he had it all recorded on camera,” the worker said.

When approached for comment, an ASOS spokesperson directed The Independent to XPO Logistics, the company which employs staff at the warehouse near Barnsley.

A spokesman for XPO Logistics confirmed that one employee was suspended pending an investigation into whether security protocols had been breached.

The employee was taken off suspension on June 6 and was expected to return to the warehouse the following day, the company said.

GMB Union, who is representing the employee in question, said they have heard a litany of complaints from other workers at the warehouse.

Deanna Ferguson, regional organisation for GMB Union in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, told the Independent many workers had confided that they were unhappy with conditions on forms and in meetings held by the union outside the warehouse gates.

“We need representation for our members. We need to make sure they are meeting health and safety standards, but also to working with us to improve the working environment for staff,” Ferguson said.

ASOS  and XPO Logistics does not recognise GMB.

Employees have used an internal employee forum to raise issues about the “big brother” CCTV system being trialled in the building.

Terry Green, chairperson of the employee forum, said CCTV cameras help prevent and address poor packing in the building, which is the last place where the company can check the quality of stock before it reaches customers.

“Our cameras are not directed at any one individual. I believe that this is the right way to go, and our forum is in full support,” Green said.

Ken Perritt, supply chain account director at XPO Logistics, said an extended surveillance system with additional CCTV cameras was under consideration.

“The cameras will help us continuously improve our service and quickly solve any inefficiency. This is completely standard in the industry. We continue to talk through these proposals with our teams on site before deciding on any final plans,” Perritt said.

Employee practices are under scrutiny by MPs and union members after a meeting of the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to scrutinise the way workers are treated at warehouses owned by Sports Direct.

Iain Wright MP, committee chair, said MPs wanted to determine what it’s like to work in Britain in 2016.

“Are we going down a road of greater insecurity, zero-hours contracts? Is the balance right for that, for people working in a very competitive environment, to make sure there is no exploitation?” Wright said.

Unite the Union has said that workers are vulnerable to exploitation in any industry where they are required to work flexibly, including retail, transport and the service industry.

“There is no access to justice even if you have on paper the employment tribunal process, if you can afford it. You’re simply denied employment if you raise a grievance against an employer,” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite Union, said at the Sports Direct hearing.

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