Retail trade union Usdaw has today written to health and business ministers calling for urgent Government intervention to protect key workers in the essential service of food retailing, as the rate of Covid infections continues to grow.

Usdaw is calling for the Government to ensure that frontline retail staff are prioritised for vaccination and Covid testing, along with full pay and support for those who are ill, self-isolating or shielding. The union is also urging retailers to reinstate and reinforce necessary safety measures in shops and for customers to follow the rules, while giving shopworkers the respect they deserve.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“Retail staff are working with the public every day and are not only suffering increased abuse, but are also deeply worried about catching Covid-19. That must be taken into account by the Government when assessing risk levels and priority for vaccines and testing.

“We are calling on the Government to ensure that retail workers and delivery drivers are given priority, because they provide the essential service of keeping the nation fed. We are also looking for support from the Government, retail employers and the shopping public to help make food stores and deliveries as safe as possible for customers and staff alike.”

Full text of the letter:

Dear Mr Sharma and Mr Hancock

In light of the recent rise in cases and the new strain of Coronavirus, many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families.

Supermarket workers and delivery drivers have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. As tighter restrictions are introduced, they continue to go to work in public-facing roles and deal with hundreds of customers every day.

Usdaw is calling for essential retail workers and delivery drivers to be given priority in the rollout of vaccinations and mass testing, to reflect the level of risk that they face.

As an immediate priority, we expect retailers to revisit their risk assessments, in consultation with the Union, to ensure that:

  1. Customer numbers are limited and queuing systems are put in place to get into shops, with trained security staff in place where appropriate. Where maximum customer numbers have previously been increased, employers must look again at this and consider whether they need to be reduced to earlier levels.
  2. Clear signage is in place telling customers to wear face coverings. Enforcement of the law on face coverings remains the responsibility of the police, and we call on the police to implement regular spot checks.
  3. Customers are reminded to shop alone and not along with other members of their household, wherever possible.
  4. 2 metre distancing markers around the shopfloor, and in queuing areas are in place and properly monitored. One-way systems should be in place wherever possible.
  5. Incidents of violence and abuse are not tolerated. Employers must back up their staff when dealing with abusive customers and those who refuse to follow social distancing measures.
  6. Enhanced cleaning measures in place on the shop floor and in back areas.
  7. PPE, hand sanitiser and cleaning products available for all staff.
  8. Doorstep only delivery procedures are in place to protect drivers.
  9. Staff who are sick or need to self-isolate for Covid related absence are paid full pay and not subject to disciplinary absence procedures.
  10. Workers who are at additional risk are protected, in line with Government advice for their area. Specific legal protections for pregnant women must be followed.
  11. Local managers engage with Union Health and Safety reps to ensure that all agreed measures are being followed.

The above measures have policy implications for the Departments for Health and BEIS and as such I am writing you both on this issue. Given the urgency of the situation I look forward to receiving a response as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely

PADDY LILLIS
Usdaw General Secretary

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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