Supermarket workers organise

Submitted by AWL on 13 April, 2020 - 8:49 Author: Charlie George

Tesco’s response to the pandemic has been unusually clear, and provides a firm starting point for those of us wanting to ensure greater protections on the shop floor now and better pay and conditions when this crisis starts to subside.

We’ve been given paid leave to self-isolate up to 14 days, and our vulnerable colleagues (everyone who needs a flu jab, or is pregnant, or over 65) have been given 12 weeks’ paid leave to make sure they stay safe.

Gloves, masks, and hand gel should be available to anyone who feels like they need them, and there’s a one-way one-in-one-out system in operation across all stores, and barriers are being put up around the tills.

This all sounds pretty good. But here’s the catch:

The paid leave is based on core hours and isn’t available to the 45,000 new starters! In order to protect our staff and our customers, it should surely be the case that everyone we work with should be able to isolate themselves without worrying about paying for food or rent. We demand full paid leave, based on average hours worked, for all staff working in Tesco.

Despite the clarity of the policy, however, some line managers or even store managers think they know better! I’ve heard reports of managers refusing people 12 weeks’ paid leave without the letter from the NHS declaring them “extremely vulnerable”, despite this leave being available to all vulnerable colleagues; line managers have been encouraging staff to come to work despite the fact they should be self-isolating; store managers have been ignoring the social distancing policies and bragging about how much money they’re making.

Local group chats and Facebook groups for union reps in the shopworkers’ union USDAW are more active than ever.

But the union nationally has closed down its democratic structures, cancelled all its conferences, meetings and schools, and sent everyone on release back to work.

While it may be a good idea to postpone our larger conferences, there is no reason at all why our branch meetings and educational discussions couldn’t happen online, and why, with appropriate PPE, reps on stand down couldn’t continue to provide support in their area.

USDAW must rapidly find a way to reopen its branches and divisions for democratic discussion.

After fury from Waitrose staff, the store has backed down after insisting that its workers would have to make up any time they take to self-isolate and up to two weeks of the time their vulnerable employees take to shield themselves.

Their scheme would have forced people to work well above their usual hours or else come to work whilst sick, endangering the lives of their colleagues and customers.

Waitrose backing down is a display of what can be achieved when workers make a fuss. Staff at Waitrose should carry on pushing for full provision of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and full isolation pay for all staff working across the John Lewis Partnership.

• Charlie George is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

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