WORKERS at the Mini plant in Cowley fear a spike in coronavirus cases because of conditions at the factory.

Earlier this week, the Oxford Mail reported that nine workers had tested positive for Covid-19 within a week, and feared the factory could become a virus hotspot.

Since then, BMW workers have continued to contact the Oxford Mail, expressing their worries, with one worker saying ‘it’s all gone back to normal as if nothing’s happened’.

The employee, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “You can’t take days off as you can lose your job, it’s crazy at the minute.

“It’s difficult, you either stay at home or go in and take a risk.

“There’s no social distancing and everyone is on top of everyone, the aisles aren’t big enough.

“The only time they put hand sanitisers out is when big bosses arrive, and I see managers talking without masks and not social distancing. We wear the masks and shields but management don’t.

“There needs to be a proper deep clean at the plant, but they don’t care, people are getting shushed.”

Another worker said that when taking over from the previous shift, they are only given three minutes to clean down tools and areas before the line starts, while a colleague said shifts were cross-contaminated, increasing the risk of infection, and that infections were kept secret from staff for almost a week.

Mini however has strongly refuted the allegations. A BMW Group spokesman said: “The health, safety and well-being of our workforce is our highest priority.

“We have taken a wide range of practical steps to ensure the risk of transmission of Covid-19 is minimised as far as possible and introduced stringent cleaning and hygiene practices across the plant.

“We are working closely with Public Health England and we are confident that the measures we have in place fully comply with – and in some cases go beyond – what is required under the current guidelines.

“We will continue to monitor and review those processes on a daily basis, taking appropriate advice and guidance where necessary.

“We have communicated and given clear instructions to our staff about the steps we have taken and about the responsibilities that everyone has while at work, including those working for our suppliers.

“Everybody is clear that anyone with symptoms of the virus – or who should be self-isolating – should not be on site. Anyone who does present with symptoms will be asked to go home and get tested.”

BMW added that measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus at the plant include: a wide range of physical adaptations to working areas; extensive signage and one way walkway systems; the provision of face masks or visors for all; hand sanitiser; and enhanced cleaning regimes across the plant, including of communal touchpoints, such as door handles and vending machines.

Where two metre social distancing is not possible, BMW said this is where ‘some of the most stringent practical measures and PPE requirements are in place’.

Meanwhile, an agency worker at the plant through PMP Recruitment, reported contracting coronavirus-like symptoms, saying he had become ill with breathing becoming "really difficult".

He had three tests for coronavirus, tested positive twice, but a third one was negative so they were able to return.

He said: “101 told me to trace my steps so I contacted work and the agency said it was fine and wasn’t concerned, and was just shoving it under the carpet.

“The agency told me not to tell anyone and to just keep it to myself.

“There’ll be a three week shutdown in August and when we go back, we’ll be doing 10 and a half hour shifts but only getting paid for seven and a half, to pay back furlough to the agency.”

A representative for PMP Recruitment responded saying: “The health and safety of our workers remains our number one priority and we are committed to minimising the risks presented by Covid-19, including communicating clear guidance on the steps people should take if they present with symptoms.

“All absence is managed in line with our policies and procedures, and our people continue to be paid for every hour they work.

“Any furlough payments have been funded through the Government’s Job Retention scheme and there is no need, or intention, for us to seek recovery of these payments from our workforce.”

Public Health England said earlier this week it was providing expert advice and support to the plant following ‘a small number of confirmed cases’ of coronavirus.

Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East, said: “Clearly people have concerns about reports of coronavirus cases at the Mini plant in Oxford.

“I know that the plant has worked hard to put infection control measures into place and these measures must be held to.

“We must ensure that loosening of lockdown measures is done safely, that the right action is taken to mitigate the risks, and that we all follow guidance consistently.”