UNI Commerce affiliates are engaged in an unprecedented effort to protect their members during the coronavirus global health crisis, showing unions are more important than ever to guarantee workers’ protection and health.
“We are talking to our affiliates every day and we are bowled over by the number of initiatives commerce unions around the world are putting in place to help their members,” said Mathias Bolton, Head of UNI Commerce. “We are collecting all the good practices and sharing them so we can help and learn from each other.”
In Italy and Spain, two of the first countries to impose a total lockdown, unions sprung into action to help workers who continue to serve in the face of COVID-19, as well as other commerce workers who have been sent home.
Italian affiliates, FILCAMS, FISASCAT and UILTUCS, together with the employer association, Federdistribuzione, united to demand health authorities provide the necessary protective equipment for workers. They have also been successful in persuading the government to ensure financial support for workers whose contracts have been suspended, and achieved a reduction in shop opening hours to alleviate pressure on supermarket workers.
Spanish unions, CCOO and UGT, sent common demands to the government and all commerce companies, calling for the urgent implementation of critical safety measures.
UNI Commerce has identified a number of common demands across countries and regions to protect workers in supermarkets and grocery stores.
Firstly, unions are asking all workers to be equipped with the necessary protective equipment, such as face masks and protective gloves, and that customers observe a safe distance with cashiers and pay without using cash.
Secondly, many unions have called on customers to show respect for workers and refrain from panic buying.
Thirdly, unions are demanding workers are entitled to paid sick leave and not forced to work if they believe they are at risk of being infected or belong in a vulnerable category.
The call for respect and acknowledgment for the outstanding work of supermarket employees has come loud and clear from unions, including SDA in Australia: “We understand that many people in our community are worried at present, but we also need to remember that the workers you see at the supermarket and other places are in the same boat as you. We’re all in this together.”
Just this week, the UK government passed new legislation following union demands to protect supermarket workers: “We understand this is a stressful time and remind customers that shopworkers deserve respect and that no level of abuse is ever acceptable. It should never be a part of the job,” said British union USDAW.
UNI affiliates ver.di in Germany, Mandate in Ireland, and UFCW in the USA are also calling for workers be protected from a possible infection by ensuring the highest safety standards.
While food stores are experiencing a peak in sales, the fast-fashion industry is going through an extraordinary time with sales dropping drastically since the beginning of the crisis. As more countries go into lockdown, shops not selling food or providing essential services, are being forced to close and workers told to stay home.
This week, governments in Italy and Spain issued an emergency decree ensuring all workers, regardless of the years of service, will be entitled to extraordinary unemployment benefit through special funds. These funds will also be used to help companies in need.
Elsewhere, in Austria, Belgium, France and Peru, unions have been successful in lobbying the government to secure workers’ salaries during shop closures. However, there is concern over guaranteeing workers’ income in the long-term and a question over whether companies would be ready to make up the difference between unemployment benefit workers’ full salaries.
“We face an extremely uncertain future and the economic crisis that will follow, even after the spread of the virus will be contained, will put many jobs at risk,” said Mathias Bolton. “We call on all global retailers to enter into dialogue with unions and to safeguard their workers in every country they operate. As workers put themselves on the frontlines, companies need to act now and step up to their social responsibilities.”
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