Surveys conducted by UNI Global Union commerce affiliates in the UK, Ireland and North America show that retail workers are inadequately protected during the Covid-19 pandemic and unions are fighting back to stand up for workers’ safety.
UK: Covid-19 is creating a profound strain on shop workers
Usdaw, an affiliate of UNI Commerce from the UK, ran an online survey to identify the impact of the coronavirus in food retail workplaces. The study of 7,357 workers revealed five major problems:
- 70% of workers have raised issues with their employer around concerns over the coronavirus, including lack of adequate protection.
- Abuse against shop workers has doubled since the Covid-19 outbreak. Among the survey respondents 65% report threats, harassment or abuse.
- 29% of respondents have had to take sick leave or self-isolate as a result of Coronavirus
- 60% of full-time workers raised concerns about mental health issues; this rate increased to 79% among workers with zero and short-hour contracts.
- One in ten of surveyed workers (12%) has been furloughed, leaving low-paid workers to struggle on 80% of their normal income.
The survey also highlighted the challenges faced by retail workers applying for universal credit, and the impact of school closures.
A New Deal for Workers
In response, Usdaw has launched a new campaign titled “A New Deal for Workers” built on the five following demands:
1) A minimum wage that is a real living wage
2) Guarantees over working hours
3) Freedom from fear, and respect for shopworkers
4) More support for low-paid workers
5) A real voice at work with trade unions
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “The Usdaw survey has shown us that many key workers working to keep our society going in this pandemic are low-paid with insecure hours and few employment rights. The workers who are carrying out these essential roles deserve a new deal.”
Ireland: Half of Workers Report Inadequate Social Distancing
Mandate trade union from Ireland conducted a survey with 6,942 retail workers from 300 separate businesses. Among the respondents:
- 46% said social distancing and crowd control measures not being adhered to
- 29% said they have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- 23% said shopping trollies/baskets not regularly sanitized
- 21% said they had insufficient hand sanitiser and
- 18% said there were insufficient protective shields/screens
The survey also revealed retail workers believe hazard pay should be applied at a rate of 20 per cent on top of regular hourly pay.
Mandate General Secretary John Douglas said: “We’re asking retailers to ensure that all health and safety precautions are adhered to at all times and that they reward their staff fairly for the sacrifices they are making during this pandemic.”
At Least 72 Workers Have Died in the USA and Canada
According to figures released by UFCW (of the USA and Canada) on Workers’ Memorial Day (28 April), there have been at least 72 worker deaths and 5,322 workers directly impacted by Covid-19 among the UFCW’s 1.3 million members who work in grocery, retail, pharmacy, meatpacking, and other essential industries.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone said: “We are calling on all of our country’s leaders in the White House, in Congress, and states across the country to strengthen safety standards and take immediate action to protect the millions of workers who are keeping our communities strong throughout the crisis.”
UNI Calls for Better Protection and Collaboration
UNI is urging all food retailers to implement UNI’s Guidelines to protect workers and customers in stores from Covid-19, and to join the Declaration on Food Retail Workers to give a proper response to the crisis at global level. Guidelines for workers in fashion retail are due to be released shortly.