RETAIL workers at a designer outlet that sees thousands of tourists visit every year have slammed its owners for the way in which they handled the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff at Bicester Village say their health was not considered a priority as the site only closed when the government ordered all clothes shops to shut on Monday evening.

Despite concern rising at the end of January, the outlet’s owner Value Retail kept it open and said that it was ‘monitoring the situation closely’ and would be ‘taking any measures as advised by government and expert authorities’.

Also read: Stores closed at Bicester Village and 'staff resign'

Staff say they were ‘in tears’ because they had to continue working at the outlet, risking coming into contact with customers who could have the virus and say they were not informed about any decisions.

One member of staff, who works in management for Bicester Village but asked not to be named, said his team had received ‘perfectly understandable diatribe’ from workers last week as the situation came to a head.

He also said Value Retail had been ‘threatening to sue’ individual shops if they wanted to close, saying it was in their contract that they could not just close their doors.

He said: “I have never known such a disgusting company to work for.

Bicester Advertiser:

"Whenever a head of company phoned to inform us of closure, they were reminded of their contractual obligations and the pressure was cranked up by reminding them that luxury retailers were not closing and how would it look if they closed."

The staff member said that on one occasion the chairman of Value Retail, Scott Malkin, visited the site, but because the outlet was still busy with customers, it was decided not to close.

He added: "On the one side you could say they were just following the government advice regarding retail companies, but it’s all b****cks.

"They knew the anxiety of staff, they knew of lapses and confirmed cases, all swept under the carpet and cited as gossip."

Value Retail said that there were no cases of coronavirus at the designer outlet.

Also read: Staff say Bicester Village has done 'poor' job of keeping them informed

More than 100 shops had closed by the weekend but the site as a whole remained open until the Prime Minister's announcement.

Managers then put a statement on the website on Tuesday announcing closure.

The member of staff continued: "They said officially that they’re putting the health of staff first and that’s why they’re closing and it makes my blood boil.

"Had Boris not made the announcement, they’d have remained open with 20 shops.

Bicester Advertiser:

"I won’t work for them again when this is over. I will work for someone with a soul."

Another member of staff contacted this paper last week, saying there were problems between brands and Value Retail.

They manage a store at the outlet and have asked not to be named.

They said: "The brands are having a hard battle with Value Retail informing them they will close. Harrods and Selfridges and many other shopping centres have closed to protect staff and Value Retail insist that until government tells them to, they will not close.

Also read: Coronavirus: Shopper says sign on store window at Bicester Village is 'disgusting'

"They are bullying some brands by fining them and threatening with new contracts, meanwhile people have no choice but to remain open and do their shifts or lose jobs, risking being contaminated or contaminating others.

"Since the news of government support and closure of pubs and restaurants it would make sense to close the shopping centre. Instead it's the brands fighting with their own head offices to get permission to close."

She stressed that she has been reassured by her company, but not Value Retail.

Another member of staff who contacted this paper last week said they knew 17 employees at the outlet who have quit their jobs because of the way management has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

Other workers say they have not been kept informed well enough.

Also read: Bicester Village staff 'left in the dark' about coronavirus

A staff member said: “It's just the vagueness and the lack of support from the powers that be. They're not even popping their heads in to say thank you or calling in to ask if people are ok.

“They're just not giving us information.”

Bicester Village was contacted for comment but failed to respond.