Birmingham Tesco employee reveals feeling unsafe working on the frontline during Covid-19

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Gary Robinson* has worked at a Tesco store in Birmingham for 19 years. He talks about how his working day has become more stressful since the outbreak of Covid-19. 

“I started working at Tesco when I was just 19. It used to be a good place to work but over the years, I’ve started to feel less valued. We have fewer staff doing the same amount of work, if not more, and the benefits have eroded.

“Even towards personal safety there’s been a change in attitude – there used to be signs behind the cigarette kiosk saying ‘any violence towards staff will not be tolerated’ but those have been taken down.

“Since the pandemic that feeling of being undervalued has gotten worse. It felt like, when it came to protecting staff, Tesco’s response was extremely slow. It took a long time to get hand sanitiser and protective screens up on the checkouts.

“At first, we were told we couldn’t wear face masks because we were scaring customers, but staff were so concerned about their safety that Tesco relented. Even then, masks weren’t provided. We were wearing scarfs, ski masks and making face coverings out of old t-shirts until eventually Tesco brought in masks and gloves.

“We have a one-way system in place but it’s difficult to enforce because if customers refuse to follow it, we can’t ask them to leave the store. I’ve had people call me names when I’ve asked them to follow the system.

“When you’re unpacking a cage it’s very difficult to stick to the two-metre rule because there’s still two people working on it and added to that there’s customers browsing the aisle. We can close the aisle but that’s not a corporate initiative and tends to lead to a lot of abuse from customers.

“I don’t feel safe at work at the moment. It feels like keeping customers happy is seen as more important than protecting staff’s health and wellbeing because measures aren’t being enforced.

“At the end of the working day I feel a lot more mentally drained than I used to. It’s always at the back of your mind that you’re working somewhere that you could pick up the virus.

“Now more than ever I think people can see the importance of shop workers but still Tesco don’t value us as much as staff working in the distribution centres.

“Yes, those staff are under time constraints to fill the cages, but we have to unload them at the other end while also dealing with customers, handling money and reducing items.

“It’s frustrating that they are paid more and that’s why I joined the Leigh Day claim. We’re not asking for much, just a fair wage for a hard day’s work.”

More information about the claim can be found at equalpaynow.co.uk

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