AS WE move towards an easing of Level 5 lockdown with shops opening for Christmas, all of us – including employers, the Government and customers – must show genuine respect for frontline retail workers.
While we’ve heard words of support from across Irish society for the sacrifices shop workers have made, very little has changed in terms of really appreciating the efforts carried out by workers in retail. If anything, matters have worsened.
These “essential” workers – who have kept us fed and clothed throughout the Covid-19 emergency – don’t deserve the indecent conditions many are forced to work under. And they certainly don’t deserve the level of abuse heaped on many of them in recent months for simply doing their job.
So we must figure out a way forward that gives all workers, including shop workers, some measure of dignity and respect.
Employers must ensure that workers’ health and safety is their utmost priority – and that means making sure all Covid regulations are strictly adhered to.
Requirements are in place to ensure retail outlets aren’t overcrowded. Overcrowding will, of course, help spread the virus and lead inexorably to an eventual third lockdown. As Christmas approaches, employers must ensure they control customer numbers both in queues and throughout their stores.
It is likely there will be a requirement to open shops later than usual to spread the customer base and Mandate supports recommendations that vulnerable members of the public should be given designated shopping times.
However, it is also the view of the union that workers who are asked to work unsocial hours or outside of their contractual provisions should do so on a voluntary basis and be adequately rewarded for it.
Employers must strictly adhere to the wearing of face coverings. However, it is not the responsibility of shop workers to enforce such a policy which has led to increasing levels of abuse of workers. Employers should have designated security staff trained on handling such a provision.
Where possible, stores should also make regular announcements to remind customers of their obligations and of Covid-19 regulations.
An adequate supply of hand sanitizer should be widely available and stores should be equipped with proper signage, both to remind shoppers of social distancing requirements and to underline the retailer’s strict policy of zero tolerance when it comes to the abuse of staff by customers.
There’s lots of anecdotal evidence that abuse at work – whether verbal, physical or threatening behaviour – has increased since the onset of the pandemic. Many workers are being subjected to abuse for asking customers to wear a mask. Employers must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to workplace abuse, including the removal of abusive customers and the provision of supports to workers who have borne the brunt of customer rage.
We already know that retail workers are having their terms and conditions changed with many employers using the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce costs. Lloyds Pharmacy, for example, has taken away their workers’ Christmas bonus without any agreement.
Mandate is calling on the Government to urgently bring in real representational rights for all workers. This includes the right of entry for trade union officials to carry out health and safety and workplace rights inspections as well as for collective bargaining/representation purposes.
The recently announced €80 fines for those flouting the wearing of masks is welcome, but it is still unclear how this measure will be enforced.
Mandate is calling on all consumers to abide by health regulations including the wearing of face coverings and adhering to social distancing guidelines. When hand sanitiser is provided, please use it and wash your hands regularly.
It is in all of our interests that we get the transmission of this virus under control and ensure there is no need for a third lockdown. No worker should have to go to work and worry about contracting a deadly disease that they may bring home to vulnerable family members. So your vigilance is appreciated.
We understand the difficulties many customers are enduring but we are asking for their patience. Shop workers do not personally put in place store policies – whether they are to do with Covid-19, refunds, the selling of restricted goods, or anything else.
Workers are simply enforcing policies for their employer or for the Government. Their job may be at risk if they do not carry out their duties, so please be understanding and be nice. Please also be patient and courteous with other customers. Who knows what that other person is going through right now.
If you are a shop worker, join your union Mandate and ask your colleagues to join. Together we can make a difference, whether at a local level in enforcing adherence to regulations and improving terms and conditions of employment, or at a national level where we can influence working conditions and legislation.
If you would like to get active with Mandate, please message us here and we will ensure you are provided with all the necessary support.
Christmas is a difficult time for shop workers – a time of the year when they are expected to work longer hours on relatively low wages, face larger crowds and endure time pressures. This year will have an added burden in having to deal with a global pandemic. We are asking that everyone shows some empathy and understanding about the pressures retail workers are faced with.
The beginning of the pandemic saw increasing levels of appreciation for the essential work being done by nurses, carers and shop workers, but in truth, it didn’t take long before that appreciation dissipated.
As we now open up the economy again, it is up to us all to ensure that this time the respect shown has a longevity it didn’t have last time.
We can all play our part – whether as an employer, in Government, as a customer or a worker. Respect Retail Workers and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.