TRADE unions have warned Scottish employers over safety breaches by pressuring staff to be present for work even for non-essential work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress issued what it said was a "stark warning" after being inundated with complaints from workers about companies keeping open for non-essential work and insisting staff be present for work even while business was suspended.

It warned employers that they could find themselves in implied breach of contract and face future constructive dismissal claims if judged to be endangering workers.

CBI Scotland said the rules regarding what is an essential worker remains unclear.

The STUC, which has 37 affiliated trade union members,  said that with government advice making clear that only essential work should continue, the burden of proof would be on the employer to prove they had acted reasonably.

The STUC also said that employers have a statutory duty to risk assess for Covid-19, as it is a ‘substance hazardous to health’, and to put in place a safe system of work.

It comes as images appeared on social media of construction workers turning up for work unable to carry out social distancing.

Builders and workers in the construction industry say they feel "angry and unprotected" turning up to building sites, despite strengthened stay-at-home measures.

It follows Prime Minister Boris Johnson's national address on Monday, effectively placing the UK on lockdown by ordering people to only leave their homes for "very limited purposes".

The measures also banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of non-essential shops.

STUC general secretary designate Rozanne Foyer said: “While many employers have acted swiftly and correctly too many have not. This has caused general confusion and real alarm. Union offices across Scotland have been inundated with calls from members. Meanwhile the STUC is fielding questions by the minute from worried workers.

“Our advice to workers is clear, contact your union for support, join a union and in the meantime contact the STUC for advice. Speak to other workers and make a joint demand of the employer to present clear justification of a decision to compel you to work.

“Contact your health and safety rep if available or otherwise insist on seeing the full risk assessment your employer is obliged to undertake.”

Nicola Sturgeon said it was for employers to make decisions about who is going into work, it should not be left to employees to "anguish over".

She said it was clear pubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms have been told to close, as have non-essential retail shops.

The First Minister says if staff can work from home, employers should allow them to do so.

If staff cannot work from home, employers should ask themselves whether their business is "essential" to the fight against coronavirus.

That could include firms making medical supplies or essential items, or something essential to the wellbeing of the nation such as food supplies.

Such businesses are asked to keep going "if possible".

Business should ask: "Can you operate your business in line with safe social distancing practices?", she says.

She said building sites should close, unless it involves an essential building such as a hospital. Ms Sturgeon said this may be reviewed in future if safe rules can be put in place but in the meantime they should shut as a precaution.

But UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove earlier said all major construction work should go ahead but jobs carried out at close quarters in someone's home would not be appropriate.

The Scottish Building Federation has called for absolute clarity after claiming it was getting "conflicting information" from the UK and Scottish government on how the lockdown measures affect them.

Vaughan Hart, managing director of the Scottish Building Federation, said the different approaches were "unhelpful".

"Without absolute clarity on the situation from government, we risk a situation developing of different companies reacting in different ways which could be detrimental," he said.

A CBI Scotland spokesman said: “While the Scottish and UK governments continue to work at pace to protect the lives and livelihoods of the public, some questions around social distancing plans in the workplace remain, especially where home-working is not possible.

“Firms and workers in Scotland are still seeking urgent clarity over the definition of ‘essential workers’.

“We remain fully behind the efforts of both governments to protect workers and will work together to overcome this unprecedented health and economic emergency.”