Yelled at, spat at, and disrespected – this is becoming the new norm for shop staff, with one in six of them facing daily abuse during coronavirus restrictions according to the Union of Shop, Distributive, & Allied Workers (USDAW).
Lewis Brutnell, who has worked in Morrisons Stores in Lincolnshire for 5 years, said he felt endangered on several occasions due to customers either not wearing a mask or wearing them incorrectly.
“It felt frustrating that the public could be that dumb to just have a go at the nearest employee to their problem and I feel like some people are just grossly misinformed.”
According to the Office for National Statistics between the months of March and May 2020 male retail staff faced 34.2 deaths per 100,000 and female retail staff faced 15.7 deaths per 100,000.
“It’s just more risk doing the same job,” Lewis continued: “sometimes it’s just not enough precautions they’re taking. They’ll give out sanitiser and stuff like that but it almost doesn’t feel a lot when all of a sudden you have crowds of people rushing in and there’s no social distancing at all.”
Lewis is, unfortunately, one of the one in six shop staff that have faced abuse at work.
“There was a drunk gentleman, carrying a beer who got quite irate because we wouldn’t let him in and because there were no trolleys, and he decided to spit towards me.”
Lewis can’t simply quit his job, as a full time student, he relies on the wage to support himself as his entire student loan goes towards his rent.
This sense of endangerment isn’t just confined to Lincolnshire.
Callum Renals, a Tesco employee in Glasgow was shocked by the amount of people who didn’t wear masks.
Speaking about his experience working as a seasonal employee over Christmas, Callum said: “The vast majority did wear masks but there’s a percentage of people who would wear them under their noses or pull them temporarily down for various reasons to unlock their phones, to talk to me, or if i asked them to repeat something especially.”
“And then there was a smaller percentage of people,” Callum added, “but not insignificant, like you’ll get a fair few of them every single shift guaranteed who wouldn’t wear masks straight up.”
Callum continued: “Generally it was just people not wearing a mask, literally licking their fingers in order to separate money and then handing it to me.”
The fear shop staff feel doesn’t seem to be unfounded. A survey conducted by Statista found that only 66% of UK adults wear masks whenever they leave their home.
Callum added that the lack of face masks were not only a danger to his health but also his finances.
“In my personal case I was looking for a job for months and with that job I just took as many hours as possible and if I got sick, if i got coronavirus, I would have been out of action for two weeks, I would have been screwed because were I was making the money was extra hours.
“I was only guaranteed 11 or 12 hours but I was working the same hours as a fulltime job, actually a little more like 40 plus hours. I wouldn’t be given those hours [as sick pay] because they are considered extra.”
For Callum one of his main worries while at work was the general endangerment he and colleges faced in regards to people coughing, not wearing masks, or pulling them down to talk to them.
To combat these issues, supermarket chains Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, and Waitrose have recently made face masks mandatory in their stores and customers are asked to shop alone.
In a statement to LincolnshireLive, Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts said: “The vast majority of customers are shopping safely, but I have also seen some customers trying to shop without a mask and shopping in larger family groups.”
“Please help us to keep all our colleagues and customers safe by always wearing a mask and by shopping alone.”
Tesco, Morrisons and Lewis’ manager were approached for a comment but failed to respond by the time of publishing.