THE Government has called on shipyard staff to continue working in the interests of national security.

Shipyard bosses have announced they will reintroduce 1,800 ‘essential personnel’ by Monday.

Around 400 employees have a health condition which will excuse them from returning.

In a lengthy statement issued to staff, shipyard managing director Cliff Robson said his workforce's wellbeing 'is my number one priority'.

He confirmed a 'small number' of employees had tested positive for coronavirus and wished them a speedy recovery.

He said: “The way that you have responded in such unprecedented circumstances has been exceptional and I am proud of the fine men and women who work within our business,

“We have always demonstrated great pride in what we do and a belief in our purpose in providing nuclear submarines, which are essential to the defence of our nation.

“We have over the last two weeks progressively reduced the number of people on site, from our normal 9,500. On Monday we reduced that number to 5,000 and by Tuesday morning we had significantly reduced it further to leave approximately 750 essential personnel on site.

“This has been achieved by asking all of the 1,000 employees on our early careers programmes to remain at home.

“We have close to 400 vulnerable workers at home and if any of our employees receive a letter from the NHS they too will be sent home immediately.

“Of our remaining employees, more than 3,500 are now working from home, with a further 500 enabled to do so.

So, to be clear, today we have only approximately 750 essential personnel on site.

“Our community is at the heart of what we do and this week we have received requests for help, from the NHS and Furness General Hospital.

"As always, when the community asks for support, we respond accordingly and I’m incredibly proud of the way we rally round. Further information on what our employees can do to help will be available over the coming days.

“Having now received clear direction from the government on the defence priorities which require our support, along with our partners in the Submarines Enterprise, we are currently assessing how many people we require on site for these activities. Initial estimates would suggest around 1,800 people, which is less than 20 per cent of our total workforce.

“To that end, we are now reconfiguring our site and introducing new ways of working and protocols to allow safe operation. Again, for the avoidance of any doubt, let me be crystal clear - Where we cannot undertake a task safely in line with Government guidelines in relation to social distancing and safe working, we simply will not do it.

“Only when we and your representatives are satisfied we have safe protocols for working will we commence a phased return for that small proportion of our workforce. Until further notice, all non-essential employees should continue to remain at home.

“Being able to deliver the critical activities that are of strategic importance to the country is what we excel at, but we will only do this in a safe environment and with your support to do so.”

Some workers have taken to social media in recent days to question the safety of returning to work.

But bosses have responded by saying they have sent the most vulnerable workers home and they will be following government advice to protect staff.