Spanish unions secure better protections for supermarket workers as COVID-19 takes its toll


Spanish unions secure better protections for supermarket workers as COVID-19 takes its toll

Trade unions in Spain have secured better health and safety protections for workers in supermarkets who continue to work as trade soars and they face increased exposure to COVID-19.   

UNI Global Union affiliates, UGT Comercio and CCOO Servicios, have been quick to demand a raft of protections from employers, and they have already achieved a reduction in working hours, an increase in the number of part-time workers, and a guarantee that every worker is equipped with masks and gloves.

Cristina Estévez, general secretary of Spanish commerce union, UGT-Comercio, said:

“Supermarket workers have the right to health too. And these rights should be guaranteed by everyone, but above all, by their employers.”

The unions are also calling for financial compensation for the extra workload, a limit to the number of people allowed in stores, and tighter restrictions on distancing between customers to keep people from spreading the virus.

Spanish supermarket chain, Mercadona, has given a 20 per cent increase in gross salary to its 90,000 workers for the month of March in recognition of their service.  

However, supermarket workers in Spain report feeling over-exposed and overwhelmed by the large number of customers in the unique situation brought about by COVID-19.

“These days, people who work in commerce, in large supermarkets, are living one of our worst experiences as workers. The population has panicked and they have amassed at the doors and inside the shops,” said Vanesa Barco a supermarket cashier at Alcampo and union member.

“We also have families and above all fear being exposed, and that has not been taken into account. It is only through our union that we have been able to demand guarantees for our health,” she added.

Angeles Rodríguez Bonillo, responsible for the commerce sector at CCOO Servicios, said:

“It is unfortunate that some supermarket chains in a health crisis, such as the one we are experiencing, value sales more than the health of their workers. We have to recognize the work of these people who are exposed to contagion in order to serve the population.”

Eugenio Gámez Campos, a worker and Regional General Secretary for the Carrefour Group at CCO Servicios, said: 

“The large majority of workers at Carrefour Group are being completely supportive of the company and are making a huge effort.  The children of our country now regard stockists, cashiers, transporters, cleaners as real heroes. These jobs, which have always been in a precarious situation, are now at the top of the labour pyramid, a situation to reflect on for the future.”

Both the Spanish unions have united in their demands to the government to protect workers across all sectors, and have secured unemployment benefits for all workers whose contracts have been suspended, a break in mortgage payments, and a special fund to help companies in difficulty.

“In the time of crisis, unions are stepping up to protect their members and public health,” said Mathias Bolton, Head of Commerce at UNI Global Union. “We are seeing this in Spain and around the world.”