Tuesday, 14 April 2020

An Open Letter on Coronavirus from a Supermarket Worker

Dear General Public,

I'm a Supermarket Assistant who has gone from being 'unskilled' and at the bottom of the career ladder, to being a front-line keyworker who is risking my life - and the lives of my relatives - every day so that you continue to be fed.

Some customers are grateful for the work we do. Doctors call us heroes (and we call them heroes, too.) Children bring us drawings. People come up to us as we load the shelves with more pasta and tinned tomatoes thanking us for our commitment, and others offer to knit us ear covers to keep us comfortable whilst wearing our masks.

Others crowd around us as we reduce the day's bargains, or lean around the plastic screens on the checkouts because they feel like it. Some customers make a big show of respecting other customers and keeping a distance from them, seconds before brushing against us on their way to get a sandwich. We're shouted at for trying to police the two-metre social distancing measures, which are in place to protect everyone including you. We endure violence and verbal abuse because we've run out of flour. We're laughed at for wearing gloves and masks, or for moving away from our work when you decide to come and stand right next to us, even though these are all things we've been instructed to do to protect ourselves and you. No, Sir, it's not 'funny to see how people react' to you and your wife invading my space to look at organic mushrooms, with you on one side of me and your wife on the other so I have nowhere to go. I'm not 'getting paid to do nothing' as I ask you to step back so I can stand two metres away, I'm patiently waiting for you to finish browsing so I can return to my work safely.

And yet we continue to:

  • Direct you to the items you need with a smile.
  • Train on multiple sections in order to efficiently continue to provide the services you're used to.
  • Go through the lengthy recruitment process to make sure we have new members of staff, so that there continues to be people to serve you and make sure there's food on the shelves while our more vulnerable workers take sick leave.
  • Exhaust ourselves with overtime to try and give you the best availablity of items and customer service.
  • Put essential items aside for elderly delivery customers we've come to know personally, and who have come to know us.
  • Spend hours completing rotas to make sure that our sick and vulnerable workers are accounted for, and to ensure that they are sufficiently covered by the remaining members of staff.
  • If you don't see us during the day, we're probably working through the night instead, recovering the shelves after a day of trade and picking thousands of items for your food deliveries.
  • Complete stock-counts to maintain stock levels so you can buy what you need.
  • Work as a team to ensure our delivery drivers get to you on time.
  • Take emotional phone calls from the vulnerable and elderly who are running out of food and need our support.
  • Support the local community with monetary donations, care packages and volunteering.
  • Maintain our closed-off section of items put aside especially for NHS workers.
  • Clean every single trolley handle and every single shopping basket - and we have hundreds.
  • Donate food to charity that we can no longer legally sell, and spend time maintaining this area and liasing with the charities.
  • Complete a cleaning schedule to make sure the whole shop is clean for you.
  • Date-check items so you don't get ill from buying out-of-date goods.
  • Drive 100+ miles per day to deliver your shopping.
  • Support any colleagues who are struggling with the situation or may have been furloughed.
  • Scan in hundreds of Click and Collect parcels.
  • Clean our hands between serving each and every customer so we don't pass germs between you all.

And even in the toughest of times, we continue to smile, work hard, and stay committed, because without us food availability would plummet even more and the country would be stuck.

Food shopping is not a substitute for a day out. You do not need to bring your other half or your entire family (single parents of young and/or disabled children excepted). We're putting ourselves at risk so you can carry out your ESSENTIAL food shopping, not treat our place of work like a leisure park. So please be kind, keep your distance, and stay home where possible. Behind the namebadge is a person with worries, hidden health conditions, and loved ones we are trying to protect - while also protecting you.


A Supermarket Assistant


I do not consent to the publishing of this letter elsewhere without prior permission.