Shop staff require more protection during pandemic

David Thomson May 2, 2020
Shop staff require more protection during pandemic

It has been a tough few weeks for those working on the UK’s front line during the coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve heard stories of healthcare professionals under enormous pressure because they haven’t got the right Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).

Some workers are not only seeing those they are caring for dying, they are losing their colleagues too.  

It’s not only NHS staff and care workers who’ve had to deal with a lack of PPE in the UK. Retail staff have also been complaining about not getting the correct PPE to enable them to carry out their job.

Correct PPE

With almost one-third of retail workers on coronavirus-related absence from work because of illness, self-isolation or shielding, remaining staff are rightly concerned about protection.

According to the Greenock Telegraph, staff at a Marks & Spencer store in Port Glasgow branded their PPE equipment “cheap and flimsy”.

Shop workers’ union Usdaw recently published a survey in which more than two-thirds (70 per cent) of the 7,357 respondents stated they had raised issues with their employer regarding concerns over coronavirus.

With staff working long hours, Usdaw said not enough structure had been put in place to abide by social distancing rules set out by the government and health authorities.

Photo by Philafrenzy, Creative Commons

Limit customers

The Marks & Spencer whistleblower also complained not enough had been done to limit the number of people in the Port Glasgow store, with up to 40 customers in the store at any one time.

Where Usdaw has a presence in the workplace, agreements have been put in place between the union and employer to bring in tighter rules to maintain social distancing.

These new rules include allowing one person into the store at a time and guiding customers through the shop by a designated route.

Usdaw’s survey revealed an alarming number of members stating covid-19 had “harmed their mental health”. Employers need to have regular and meaningful dialogue with staff to reassure them their views have been taken into account.

Furlough confusion

Workers are also concerned they didn’t receive the right information when they were put on furlough.

The survey found 12 per cent of workers had been furloughed or laid-off. Many on furlough are only getting 80% of their normal pay. Usdaw said for low-paid workers this was a real hardship and led to stress and anxiety. Many are on zero-hours contracts.  

Employers not only have to tell staff how much they will be paid on furlough but for how long too. I know of one supermarket that has furloughed staff for either one or two months.

Usda has called for a “new deal for workers”, giving them a new National Minimum Wage of £10 an hour. It also calls for a minimum 16 working hours per week and a new law to tackle violence against shop workers.


However, we need to show more appreciation for our retail workers. We appreciate NHS staff, care workers and other emergency services because they are dealing with life and death situations. Covid-19 shows no boundaries, however, and our retail workers have been put in a life and death situation too.

They are the ones who ensure the country’s economy is ticking over while we’re in lock-down. Social distancing measures introduced by stores have helped but more action is required to protect staff through adequate PPE.  

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