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Retail staff feeling vulnerable

The cases for and against opening ‘non-essential’ retail stores is getting an airing this week, with competing unions the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) presenting differing points of view.

The national secretary of the SDA, Gerard Dwyer, wants to see ‘non-essential’ retailing back open for business.

‘The SDA would welcome members returning to work where and when it is safe to do so.  That means instituting the health and safety measures advocated by the union.’

The SDA, with 200,000 retail members in Australia, has been advocating a 10-point Coronavirus health and safety plan to accompany store re-openings.

Among the 10 points are installing plexiglass screens at cash registers, displaying social distancing signage and floor markings, increasing the cleaning and sanitisation of stores, providing workers with gloves and hand sanitiser and going cash free.

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), established just a few years ago largely because the fat and bloated SDA does such a patchy job of representing all retail staff (for instance, Seven-11 employees), maintains that non-essential retailers should stick to online retailing.

A RAFFWU spokesperson told 7 News that retail staff ‘want to see their stores shut, and they want to be put on paid leave while the stores are shut’.

Some retail employees, particularly those in older age groups or with existing vulnerabilities, are expressing concern about being unnecessarily exposed to the virus. Around 900 JB HiFi employees have signed an online petition, circulated by the RAFFWU, calling for the electronics retailer to shut its doors but continue paying staff.

Retail employees are concerned that customers are not following social distancing and hygiene rules. In some cases people are wandering around stores with little or no intention to purchase anything, but simply to relieve their lock-down boredom.

‘We’ve had customers come in who have basically said that they’re supposed to be in lockdown,’ a JB HiFi staff member told 7 News. ‘People are browsing, people are touching everything and we’re supposed to be cleaning everything straight after they touch it.’

He questioned whether JB HiFi was providing an ‘essential service’ as almost everything in store can be purchased online for home delivery or collection.

‘We don’t need to be open to the public to do that and we don’t need everybody crammed into small spaces,’ he said.

JB Hi-Fi maintains its staff are already allowed to stay home without pay if they feel unsafe. The retailer, which employs about 12,500, has gone cashless, shortened trading hours to free up time for cleaning stores, and has social distancing measures in place.

The SDA 10-point coronavirus safety plan:
1. Go ‘cash free’ and accept card payments only.
2. Install plexiglass screens at cash registers to protect workers who cannot keep at least 1.5 metres from customers.
3. Ensure social distancing measures are in place and are enforced, including signage, floor markings, register use and customer volumes.
4. Ensure sanitiser approved by the Health Department is readily available to all staff (current standards require at least 60 percent alcohol).
5. Provide workers with gloves and personal face shields where requested.
6. Provide bags free of charge for each purchase to avoid handling of customer bags. No use of customers’ used bags unless the customer bags it themselves.
7. Continue to increase security to assist in enforcing social distancing, customer volumes, purchase limits, access limits and in dealing with unreasonable customers. Police resources may also need to be deployed to protect workers.
8. Ensure regular cleaning and sanitisation of workstations and personal protective equipment.
9. Take a zero tolerance approach to customer violence and abuse.
10. Publicly promote the SDA’s ‘No One Deserves A Serve’ campaign to improve customer behaviour

One Comment

  1. ChrisH ChrisH April 17, 2020

    The workers just want a paid holiday. We’re struggling. Sales are now nearly level pegging with last year thanks to a big increase in online sales. Over-the-counter sales are down by as much as 80%. We only start our wet lab 2 or 3 days a week to cut power costs. If the unions & the staff of stores such as JB have their way regional areas will be devastated by the push to go online. Create a habit & people will find it hard to break it. We’ve had church ministers & teachers after equipment for doing sermons/classes online. They can’t afford to wait up to 2 weeks for goods.

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