UNI Global Union affiliates around the world are calling for retail workers to be given priority for vaccination against coronavirus as they continue to work on the frontlines providing food and necessities to the public.

Outbreaks in stores have been endemic, and one study of retail workers found they were significantly more likely to test positive for the virus that the general population.

To make matters worse, new figures from the Office of National Statistics released on 25 January in the UK confirm that essential workers are more likely to die from Covid-19. In response, Usdaw has reiterated its calls for key workers such as retail workers to be urgently vaccinated.

“This is worrying for our members in the essential food supply industry, including those in processing plants, distribution, essential retail and grocery delivery. So we are working with employers to revisit risk assessments and ensure that all safety precautions are adhered to,” said Usdaw General Secretary, Paddy Lillis. “The Government must prioritize vulnerable occupations in the second phase of the vaccine rollout, reflecting the risks they face. They have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials and these key workers must be valued, respected and protected.”

Similarly, UFCW, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers in the United States, last month called on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to prioritize essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing – who are overwhelmingly people of colour – for early COVID-19 vaccine access.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone said:

“As the largest union for America’s essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing, UFCW is calling on the CDC to prioritize these brave men and women for early access to the COVID-19 vaccine immediately after health care workers. Protecting our country’s food workers is essential to keeping our communities safe and stopping future outbreaks in these high-exposure workplaces. CDC Director Redfield must recognize the vital role these essential workers serve by ensuring that they are among the first to receive access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

In Australia, Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) wrote to Health Minister Greg Hunt before Christmas calling for retail, fast food and warehouse workers to get first access to immunisation against coronavirus. “In light of the critical services they are providing, these workers must be given priority in accessing any vaccines when they become available,” wrote Dwyer.

UFCW Canada, which represents food, healthcare and security workers, has a petition calling for frontline workers to have priority when it comes to Canada’s vaccine roll out, as well as pay increases to r frontline members to better reflect the critical contributions that UFCW members make to the day-to-day needs of Canadians.

UNI General Secretary, Christy Hoffman, said:

“The message is clear: essential workers in retail are in constant danger and must be prioritized when it comes to getting a vaccine against Covid-19. Their role in our lives cannot be overlooked and society cannot survive without them. The sooner they have access to the vaccine, the better.”