URGENT guidance on "essential" work amid the coronvirus lockdown is being demanded - after hundreds of plumbing staff were reportedly ordered into work despite new Government rules.

Unite the Union claims 700 staff were asked to attend work by Glasgow-based firm McAlpine Plumbing today, just hours after Boris Johnson's address to the nation in which strict new measures were introduced to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

It comes as the First Minister revealed 584 people in the country were diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 9am - with 16 people having sadly lost their lives.

Unite say they have received reports of multiple facilities of the plumbing firm - including at Coatbridge, Hillington, Johnstone, North Cardonald and Thornliebank - remaining open despite the news last night that non-essential workplaces should close with immediate effect. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 183 cases in Glasgow as Scotland hits 584 with more deaths

They are now demanding "crystal clear" guidance on what is deemed as "essential" work to help businesses during the unprecended times.

David McGurk, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “Unite was informed this morning that McAlpine Plumbing which has multiple operations across Greater Glasgow is categorising its workforce as essential which we believe to be totally incorrect.

"Around 700 workers have travelled to work with many working inches away from each other and who also having to use public transport to get into work, and thereafter to make their way home.

"The company’s factories often have up to 200 workers with toilet and canteen facilities being shared.

"Unite’s members are rightly concerned about their safety but they are also worried that if they go home then they will not receive their wages.

"So, we are demanding that the Scottish and UK Governments give crystal clear advice to employers that if workers are not deemed essential then they should be sent home with immediate effect and that there should be no detrimental impact on their pay.”

A statement posted on McAlpine Plumbing social media pages on Tuesday reads: "We are seeking urgent clarification from the Scottish Government and we intend to update both staff and the public once we gain further clarification."

A previous statement on their company website details out the "specific actions" being taken to "ensure the well-being" of staff. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus LIVE: Lockdown confirmed Scottish cases reaches 584

That includes increasing the availabilty of hand sanitisers within the business, putting up posters re-inforcing good practice surrounding handwashing, ceasing sales employees visiting suppliers outlets, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and prohibiting international travel and attendance at meetings/conferences.

They said the situation is being kept "under constant review" but "at the time of this notice it is our intention to operate as normally as reasonably practicable."

It said: "We intend all sites to remain open and shall keep abreast of the government guidelines on a daily basis" as they take the COVID-19 threat "seriously".

Addressing parliment, Nicola Sturgeon said UK Government measures should mean businesses “will now be able to do the right thing and not lay off staff”, and she said she hopes for a positive announcement soon on more help for self-employed people and freelance workers.

Businesses should take the lead on deciding whether to close or not, she said, and employees should not be left to “anguish over whether they should go into work”.

Scottish Government advice for businesses is that if staff can work from home they should, she said, adding that businesses should ask themselves if their work “is contributing something essential to the fight against coronavirus” or the wellbeing of the nation.

Businesses that cannot operate in line with social distancing should not be open, she said.

Ms Sturgeon added that construction sites should be closed unless the building work is essential, for instance work on a hospital. 

However in differing advice, Downing Street has defended allowing construction work to continue despite the lockdown measures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It should continue where it can happen in a way that follows Public Health England and industry guidance.

“We urge employers to use their common sense when managing live projects and ensuring that employees can follow the Government guidance and practice safe social distancing on site.”

McAlpine Plumbing have been approached for further comment.