Life

Coronavirus in UK: please, let’s give supermarket workers the respect they deserve

Just weeks ago, they were called ‘unskilled’. Now, we’re relying on supermarket staff to help get us through the coronavirus pandemic. 

As almost all of us have seen firsthand, supermarket shelves have been stripped bare of store cupboard essentials across the country due to coronavirus-induced stockpiling.

In a bid to combat panic-buying, Aldi introduced across-the-board rationing. Tesco and Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, have told customers they can only buy three of any grocery item while they are also shutting fresh food counters. 

Asda has taken similar action, Waitrose has drafted in 1,200 staff from sister retailer John Lewis to cope with demand, and Morrisons is limiting purchases across 1,250 lines.

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Every single day, though, sees supermarket car parks fill up and queues grow steadily longer. Because, while Boris Johnson has warned us to avoid all non-essential contact in a bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve, many have deemed their stockpiling excursions to be exactly that.

Surely, then, this means that supermarket staff are essential, too?

Supermarket staff – deemed “unskilled” by our government just weeks ago – have proven themselves to be absolutely vital over the past few weeks. Much like NHS staff, police and teachers, they continue to go into work.

Whether they’re stacking shelves, running a till or delivering food to our doors, they have put themselves on the Covid-19 frontline every single day. Every single night, they work tirelessly to restock the shelves stripped bare by worried shoppers.

So why on earth are some still treating supermarket workers as less than?

An illustration of a woman holding a basket of essential goods.
People desperately need to stop stockpiling.

People have lashed out – physically and verbally – at staff because they can’t find the items they’re looking for. They’ve shouted about the queues, about the lack of restocking, about their own needs. They’ve treated cashiers like machines, failing to acknowledge that they have been working for many hours. That they, too, are feeling anxious about the state of the world. That they also have families and loved ones to care for.

That they, unlike so many others, absolutely can’t work from home.

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It’s something which many retail staff have brought up themselves on social media.

“The stress is unreal,” tweeted one. “We are stretched and having to limit what customers want. How many sanitisers does one need? Restrictions and yet the same people are coming in five times more? It’s just crazy.”

Another added: “Having spent just seven hours working today in a well known high street pharmacy, I’m exhausted, and this is day one of five.”

And still one more said: “As someone that works in a very busy online department in Sainsburys, I’m begging everyone to just stop this shit.

“We don’t deserve to be treated like [this].”

Fred Rogers – known to generations simply as “Mr. Rogers” (or to UK audiences as ‘that guy Tom Hanks played in A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’) – famously said he was always comforted by something his mother would tell him during times of disaster.

It was this: “Look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping.”

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In this strange age of social distancing and lockdowns, those people are everywhere, if you only choose to look for them. So please wholeheartedly thank the cashier who rings through your shopping, the driver who travels miles to bring your groceries to your door, the people steadily restocking the shelves so you can get the essentials you need.

And remember this: society is a lot like a Swiss watch, in that, without even the smallest wheel, it won’t work. 

Let us hope that, when we come out the other side of this pandemic, no worker is ever described as “unskilled” again. 

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