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Store workers need protecting as well, urges retail union chief

Gloves, masks and sneeze guards at the checkouts are needed to safeguard staff

09 April, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

‘Retail workers are playing an essential role’


SHOP staff need extra protection from the spread of coronavirus, unions have warned, although some stores have begun installing Perspex shields in a bid to reduce the chances of transmission.

Supermarket employees are key workers in the UK lockdown with essential food-buying one of the only reasons for which people are supposed to leave their homes.

But while focus has, understandably, been directed at supplying the protective kit needed by hospital and care home staff, shelf stackers and cashiers are also questioning how exposed they may be.

The need to protect all workers keeping the going country has been highlighted by the deaths of transport workers from Covid-19, including Dartmouth Park bus driver Emeka Nyack.

Peter Lillis from the retail union Usdaw said: “Our members, like everyone else, are facing serious worries about the possible impact of coronavirus on them and their families.

“They are experiencing this worry at the same time as dealing with extremely high demand, coming into contact with hundreds of people every day, and working flat out so that customers can buy the things that they need.”

He added: “Retail workers are playing an essential role in getting the country through this crisis and they need your support.”

Last month, the New Journal reported on concerns among staff at Marks and Spencer about a ban on wearing facemasks in store, with one employee at the South End Green branch in Hampstead suggesting workers were scared but had been told not to wear them to avoid causing “panic” among customers.

M & S said it was following government and medical advice to protect staff and last week introduced new measures including “sneeze guards” at the tills and plastic face shields.

A statement said: “The health and wellbeing of our colleagues and customers come first.”

Sainsbury’s put up its Perspex screens in its flagship outlet in Camden Road, Camden Town, last week and said it had a safe queuing system. The company said masks and gloves were available to those who wanted them.

Morrisons is also using Perspex screens in their stores and is introducing signage to encourage social distancing, while Waitrose say they are operating on a one-in and one-out policy with marshals to manage queues.

Mr Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said supermarket staff also needed more protection if they fell ill with the virus, warning that the statutory sick pay of £95.85 per week was not enough.

Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, who was elected as leader of the Labour Party on Saturday, said: “I think there has got to be a review at the end of this but I’d go beyond statutory sick pay. I think we can’t clap those on the front line, our key workers, every Thursday and at the end of this – when we’re through it – expect things to stay as they are. There’s got to be a reckoning.”

He added: “We’ve got to realise that many of those we are now clapping are underpaid and haven’t been properly valued for many, many years. That has got to change.”

But he could not predict a time when pay would be reviewed. “I think we should change it now but it depends how speedily we can do it – but it should be reviewed as fast as possible.”

Statutory sick pay went up by just £1.60 earlier this week in a pre-planned move. Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked on BBC TV’s Question Time last month whether he could live on the payment, to which he answered “no”, before suggesting that businesses should be “supporting their staff”.

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