Supermarket staff risking their health to keep shelves stocked with food and essential supplies are calling for more to be done to keep them safe.
Shop workers union Usdaw said its members were facing serious concerns about coronavirus and its impact on their health and that of their families – yet they are still working hard to keep stores open.
There have also been numerous complaints of supermarket workers being blamed for stocks running out and abused by shoppers.
It has even been reported a shop worker was spat at by a panic-buyer who was trying to get hold of toilet paper.
One city supermarket worker, who asked not to be named, said: “Much is being made of the NHS doing a great job which of course they are.
“The essential role of the food supply chain has also been identified by the Government as a key service, but what is being done to protect supermarket workers, how is social distancing being achieved in this environment?
“I am expected to work on the supermarket shop floor and mingle with all the customers asking why aren’t there any toilet rolls, on isles that are barely two metres wide, how is social distancing even going to take place?
“I’m not in the critical list of people who have to stay at home, so can’t take advantage of that, but I’m also not in the best of health and am very concerned.
“We are now told we can wear a mask, if we can find one, but the supermarket is not providing any, on the basis the Government recommendation says it’s not necessary for the general public.
“However we are just as much in the front line dealing with the public as the NHS are, maybe in some ways more so as we are interacting with so many different people on a daily basis.”
After a busy weekend – when shoppers were seen queuing to get into many supermarkets across the city – Usdaw is now calling on retailers to take action to protect staff.
A spokesman said: “We have increasing concerns about the safety and welfare of staff in stores.
“The scenes in stores over the weekend and behaviour of some customers mean that supermarkets need to go further to protect the health, safety and welfare of shopworkers.
“We are calling on retailers to continue to improve their stores and procedures to help protect staff. We also call on customers to stay calm, respect shopworkers and practice the necessary hygiene measures to help limit the spread of the virus.
“We all have to work together to get through this crisis.”
Usdaw says it welcomes new safety measures introduced by Morrisons, which includes perspex screens to protect checkout operators, but says it wants all retailers to do more to protect staff.
The union wants retailers to introduce a range of measures, including limiting the number of customers allowed in store, boosting security, installing perspex screens around checkouts and enforcing essential workers and vulnerable people’s shopping hours.
Usdaw is also asking customers to treat shopworkers with courtesy and respect, to wash their hands before they shop, maintain physical distance with other shoppers and staff, to only buy what they need and to pay contactless where possible.
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Jo Gideon said: “It’s totally unacceptable for people to abuse supermarket workers. There was one supermarket worker who was even spat at.
“I have seen in Hanley over the last few days that there has been less people about.
“But it could be that there needs to be a shift to just ordering by click and collect. That way people would not be wandering the aisles.”