The trade union that represents Asos’s Barnsley distribution workers wants the warehouse there to carry on trading, rejecting calls for its closure by rival unions and politicians who have questioned coronavirus safety measures at the premises.

A spokesman for Community, the union that struck a recognition deal with Asos in 2017, told Retail Week that as long as changes are made to enhance safety then the warehouse should not shut.

He said the main improvement required is to changeovers at the end of shifts, to ensure staggered arrivals on site, which would help minimise interaction and improve social distancing.

He said Asos has made a number of changes demanded by Community, so it hoped there would also be “rapid and effective” action on shifts. The spokesman said: “There have been a lot of improvements, there’s some left to do. If the changes can be implemented and we’re satisfied they’re working, then it should stay open.”

If the changes cannot be satisifactorily made then the warehouse should close, he said. A source close to Asos indicated work was underway and the requested changes could be implemented as early as today.

The union added in a statement: “We have been working with our members and the company for weeks to make improvements to the way the site operates, including introducing [personal protective equipment] and a new cleaning regime. We have been on site all day yesterday and are there again today listening to our members’ concerns and instructing the company to take further action to improve safety, particularly around shift changes.

“There are clearly issues across the sector, and the government needs a sector-wide approach, which would also include the operations of delivery companies. It’s the unions’ role to ensure employers make workplaces safe and if they’re not, they shouldn’t be continuing operations.”

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic several retailers, including Next and River Island, whose products are not deemed essential under the government’s lockdown rules, have shut their online businesses to protect workers’ safety and wellbeing.

However, the government is keen for online retailers to continue to trade and Asos’ decision to keep Barnsley open is supported by the local authority. Last week, the council wrote to the etailer to say it was “reassured to see the measures you have put in place to maintain social distancing for the protection and welfare of your employees”.

Asos has made changes to practices at Barnsley, including reducing shift numbers to 500 people – at peak it would be 4,000 – stopping next-day delivery and laying on more buses to and from the distribution centre to reduce the number of people per bus. It has also arranged for weekly visits from environmental health officers.

The GMB union has targeted several retailers’ online operations since the outbreak began. Retail industry sources believe the union hopes to win more recognition deals by fomenting industrial unrest. The GMB lost out to Community for recognition at Asos’ Barnsley distribution centre.