We cannot rely upon the bosses of corporate supermarkets to protect workers and shoppers from the spread of coronavirus. So, it is critical that the dominant trade unions in this sector play a leading role in ensuring that the big corporations that run the food sector take every possible precaution to protect everyone!
USDAW is the most powerful union within our supermarkets, and with over 410,000 members they have the ability to exert real pressure upon corporate bosses to take workers concerns seriously. This is why USDAW are clear that:
“Shopworkers should have regular access to handwashing facilities. We expect employers to provide staff with hand sanitiser whenever it is available.” (Tweet, March 20)
On March 18, USDAW put out a statement on their web site for members, stating:
“Wearing of masks is not recommended for most people as they do not provide much protection and can increase the risk of colds, flu and other infections if not properly used.
“The Union is working with employers to ensure that our members are protected at work, and we are calling on them to ensure that:
handwashing facilities are accessible
hand sanitiser is available wherever possible to those who need it
staff are properly paid and not penalised if they need to take time off.
Although USDAW don’t mention it, we should also be clear that it is not appropriate for shop workers to wear gloves of any kind (unless they are doing so for other reasons unrelated to preventing the spread of coronavirus). For example, a spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE) has said:
“PHE is not recommending the use of gloves as a protective measure against COVID-19 for the general public. People concerned about the transmission of infectious diseases should prioritise good personal, respiratory and hand hygiene.”
Likewise, it has been reported that a virologist at Imperial College London worries that “items like gloves give a ‘false sense of security’ and washing hands is a far better precautionary measure.”
Supermarkets should make sanitisers available to staff at every till, not ifs not buts, because the spread of the coronavirus via the handling of money poses a very real danger, and one that can be easily minimised. Prof Sally Bloomfield, of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, has said:
“Trying to make sure that people do not pass on or pick up the infection via hand contact on surfaces whilst they are in the store is important. In a supermarket it is impossible – because everything customers do is about hand contact.
“I think the best way is to offer customers free hand gel at the entrance and politely ask them to use it to protect other customers whilst they are in the store. Do the same thing for customers who are leaving to protect themselves against people who refused to comply with the earlier request – simple but effective.”
Supermarkets should also learn from important safety precautions being taken in other countries, and trade unionists should make every effort to establish international links with their counterparts overseas to share ideas for demands they should be placing upon employers. For instance, in Italy it has been widely reported that customers adopt social distancing practices while shopping by forming queues where individuals maintain a 2m gap between one another.
Immediate demands for creating safe working environments in supermarkets is one thing, but socialists believe that many other related demands must be made upon the bosses and the government. In this regard members of Socialist Alternative are also presently calling for:
- Price controls on hand sanitisers and medicine
- End bulk buying – retail unions to set a cap on sales per customer of items under shortage. Special arrangements to be made for elderly and vulnerable people
- Democratic workers’ control of supplies of food and pharmaceuticals, including hand sanitisers and wipes, to prevent shortagesSee more of our demands here https://www.socialistalternative.net/post/quarantine-capitalism-fight-for-a-socialist-alternative