Here’s What It’s Like To Work In A Supermarket Right Now

'The girls on the tills have had a terrible time, some of the things they’ve been called are disgusting.'

Supermarket amid coronavirus

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

‘We’re bottom of the food chain when it comes to pay but now they’re saying we’re “key workers”,' says Janet Smith, 45, from Liverpool. Smith works at Tesco where, up until a few weeks ago, she would have fallen into a category that the government considered ‘unskilled’.

When Boris Johnson unveiled the UK’s new immigration rules last month, he undermined several of the industries we are now reliant on to survive the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19). As supermarket staff rush to keep shelves stocked, delivery drivers keep our homes stocked and care workers prevent families falling apart, the often lowest-paid in society are now our key to survival.

‘I do feel a responsibility to keep working as much as I can but it is scary,’ says Smith. ‘It’s not really me I’m worried about, it’s other people. We need to be there to keep the shelves stocked but when we’re not practising social-distancing ourselves, I worry about how that’s safe for everyone.’

According to Smith, all supermarket staff in her Tesco were told to stay away from elderly relatives and friends given their continued need to keep working in public spaces. And alongside not being able to be there for her own family, she’s also facing the added pressure of preventing stockpiling, working longer hours and dealing with abuse from customers.

‘We’ve been told we have to prevent stockpiling, but people are trying to by sly about it and trick the self-checkout systems,’ she says. ‘When you do tell them they can’t have something, you usually get tons of abuse.'

‘The girls on the tills have had a terrible time, some of the things they’ve been called are disgusting,’ Smith continues. ‘One man shouted in a girl's face that she was “a fat slag” the other day because she told him he couldn’t have three of something. We’re just doing our jobs.’

Condemning the greed the public have shown, Smith says she has seen families where up to three adults will have a trolley each and fill it to the brim. By the same token, she has seen elderly people come in to do their daily shop and not even be able to get a carton of eggs. ‘A lot of our customers are pensioners that will come in after they’ve picked up their pension and only really shop day to day, they can’t get a thing because everyone else has been so selfish,’ she says.

And as staff try to combat these issues, they’re working round the clock, taking deliveries to stock shelves through the night and putting part-time staff on full-time hours where possible. According to Pay Scale, the average annual salary for a customer services assistant in Tesco is £12,401.

It’s not appreciated by members of the public who just want more and more.

‘It’s terrible when you’re working so hard – for little money at that – and a lot of the time it’s not appreciated by members of the public who just want more and more,’ she says. According to Smith, offers of pay rises or added benefits for all the extra hours and work haven’t been brought up at all.

What has been though, is a better policy around sick pay. ‘A lot of the younger staff are on contracts where if you call in sick you don’t get paid for three days,’ she explains. ‘They’ve stopped all that now and have also told anyone over 70 they can have a full 12-weeks off paid.'

‘A lot of the over-70s staff are working because they can’t afford to retire, but it’s really not safe for them to be in this environment, so I think it’s great that policies like that are being pushed out,’ Smith added.

Smith's story is an important reminder to not only be kind in times of panic and anxiety but also to pay due respect to the people who keep this country ticking over every day by providing what only now we consider to be vital services. Supermarket staff, care workers, delivery drivers and more – they are all people worried about their own families and lives, and yet are putting that aside to ensure our communities don’t fall apart.

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