By Arj Singh
store in north London for almost three years, said the past few weeks had been “absolutely crazy”.
He added: “We’ve been trying to do the very best we can for the customers and staying as calm as we can, because if we look like we’re panicking then they’ll start to panic even more.
“Most of the frustration is coming from customers who can’t find what they’re looking for and think we’re hiding it out the back.
“We’re doing as much as we can – if it’s not on the shelves it’s because we don’t have it. We’re waiting for deliveries like everybody else, and even though we want to we can’t just bring a product out of nowhere.”
He described how although he hadn’t yet witnessed anything beyond verbal abuse, the atmosphere in store was such that colleagues were afraid of potential physical confrontations over empty shelves.
Ali explained that his managers had been extremely understanding, with full staff briefings before a shift and relief in high-pressure areas of the store such as the tills if members of staff felt as though their mental health was suffering as a result of the work.
“It’s like Christmas but 10 times busier and without any of the preparation,” he said. “We’re taking it as a team, but it is really tiring.”
Raising the spitting incident in the Commons on Monday, Sefton Central MP Esterson warned a “lack of sense of some parts of the British public is putting retail workers under enormous pressure and at threat”.
He urged ministers to ramp up security for supermarket staff who cannot observe social distancing rules at work.
Home Office minister Kit Malthouse responded: “The protection of retail workers is one of the uppermost issues in our mind.
“I have myself noticed a number of retailers who are taking protective measures with measurement on the floor, taping on the floor where people should stand so they are staying two metres from a retail worker.
“But he’s quite right, where there are more serious cases, action does need to be taken.
“In the incident he mentions, as far as I can see that’s a crime and that should be reported to police and actioned accordingly.”
Gary Carter, GMB’s national officer, outlined a need for tougher safety measures to protect both retail workers and customers.
He said: “Retail workers are worried about the huge numbers of people coming into stores and want social distancing measures put in place across the board. They are rightly concerned about their own health and that of customers.
“With pubs and restaurants closed and the government telling people to act, retail workers are anxious about the vast numbers of people they’re coming into contact with daily.
“Extra industry standard security is paramount – our retail workers are on the front line and they need the personal protection equipment, guidance and support they deserve.”
Responding to the employee’s concerns, an Asda spokesperson said: “We are consistently listening to government and health service advice about how best to operate our stores and protect colleagues and customers and are regularly updating colleagues on how best to go about their duties whilst maintaining high levels of personal hygiene.”
Asda has been approached for further comment about the spitting incident in the Wirral.
A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “In these challenging times the safety of our colleagues and customers is our highest priority. Soon we will have reminders to keep a safe distance of two metres apart displayed throughout our stores.
“We are asking customers to use cards at tills and we are working on introducing screens at manned checkouts as quickly as possible.
“We are also actively reviewing the best options for queuing systems inside and outside our stores and will implement the safest measures as soon as we can.”