Grocery workers have always been essential, but Covid-19 has put a spotlight on just how important their jobs are.
This week, as part of a meeting on Covid-19 in food retail organized by UNI’s Commerce sector, unions representing grocery employees in nearly 40 countries shared their experiences and best practices in advocating for essential rights for supermarket workers.
“Supermarket chains the world over have seen a surge in sales, but their workers still aren’t getting the pay and treatment they deserve,” UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman told the online gathering. “Some of them briefly earned hazard pay, and then it was cruelly taken away. Unions everywhere recognize that this is a moment to revalue the work of these essential workers and are fighting for long term improvements and essential rights.”
And grocery workers are pushing for change. During the meeting, unions from all UNI’s regions highlighted how they are spearheading the fight for essential rights:
Japan: Japan’s UA Zensen has a powerful, long-running campaign on stopping violence against shopworkers, and the union’s Ando Kenta described how this effort is even more important during the pandemic. Additionally, the union has been organizing in workplaces, across the industry, and in every level of government for stronger worker protections.
South Africa: Saccawu’s Darlington Ndlovu talked about his union’s efforts to secure PPE for shopworkers and the union’s ongoing negotiations to ensure the implementation of safety measures. “Supermarket workers are now considered as an important part of the society. So they deserve better rights,” said Ndlovu.
United Kingdom: Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis said that violence against shopworkers is on the rise in the UK as well, and his union is pushing the country’s parliament for a new law to protect them from abuse, threats and violence. Additionally, Usdaw is campaigning for a “New Deal for Workers” that would raise the minimum wage and strengthen union rights.
United States and Canada: Fallon Ager of the UFCW described her union’s extensive coordination for the “Essential workers deserve Hazard Pay during COVID-19” campaign. The union has already won retroactive pay for more than 56,000 US Stop&Shop workers.
Additionally, UNI talked about the SDA campaign in Australia for an “essential pay rise,” the FNV’s push for a 5 per cent raise across the sector, UNIFOR in Canada’s Fair Pay Forever effort, CCOO’s “Somos Esenciales” in Spain, and others.
Daniel Lovera of FAECYS in Argentina and Vice President of UNI Commerce made the case for collective bargaining to further the goals of these campaigns for essential rights. “Global framework agreements are more important now than ever to secure better rights for retail workers,” he noted.
“Supermarket workers are frontline workers. Many of them got sick and many died. These workers died just because they went to work and did their jobs,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of both UNI Commerce and the RWDSU. “Now after months, too many are once again overworked, overwhelmed, and feeling expendable. They feel ill prepared and unprotected. Let us go forward and make a difference for retail workers, commerce workers, essential workers throughout the world.”
This commitment to change comes across in a declaration adopted by the meetings participants. Read it here.