From the very beginning and with the start of the measures for the pandemic, dozens of trade unions across Greece highlighted the wild situation that was developing in the areas of supermarkets, shops, offices, warehouses, bringing to the fore demands for immediate protection of workers against the coronavirus. Collective demands rather than individual responsibility were what pressured and brought some minimal protection measures in the workplaces.
All this time our colleagues in the super markets are working with self-sacrifice, to serve consumers and so that nothing is missing from people’s homes. But these workers also have lives, they have families, they have the same fears, the same problems and the same needs that we all have.
In today’s press conference we want to highlight important aspects of the situation in the supermarket chains, to present important and indicative complaints that come every day and to propose the response that in our opinion should be given by commerce workers and trade unions.
Dear colleagues, we may not have the scientific training to examine and discuss medical aspects of the virus, but we have common sense, based on which we judge and filter what we hear from scientists every day. To this day, we proceed with the instructions of CDC and based on them we claim the maximum protection of employees in the workplace, we highlight serious gaps and shortcomings that exist and which are reported to us.
So, based on this common sense, we cannot understand that while at the same time we hear pompous expressions about the coronavirus that it does not distinguish between the young and the elderly, women-men, rich-poor, the same virus that is dangerous and heavily contagious in every possible contact outside, suddenly, in a magical way, it becomes invisible, less dangerous or does not enter through the sliding doors of super markets. Because from the 1st day until today, the protection measures in most supermarkets are just for show, as if there is no virus.
We cannot understand that while it is said that we should all behave as potential carriers of the virus and the guidelines are that there should be special protection measures indoors, for the past 1.5 month, supermarket workers are fully exposed to hundreds of people alternating daily and constantly in the shops.
We can’t understand why our colleagues in Italy work in supermarkets with masks, gloves and even special glasses, of course after the thousands of deaths, while in our country the same workers have completely no protection.
These concerns and others like them are not just ours. Our colleagues in many countries have such concerns that at the moment the pandemic is on the rise and we are counting thousands of people who are covid19-positive and thousands of dead people.
In France, a strike took place in supermarkets on April 8, entitled “strike to save lives” as 9 people are already dead in the industry and many more infected. Aicha´s colleagues, who workerd at CARREFOUR in Saint Denis, France, needed only a few letters to denounce the crime and her unjust death. “YOUR PROFITS-OUR DEATH”, they wrote at the entrance of the shop where our colleague worked. The employer, despite the complaints, said that the masks would scare the customers.
To the protection measures demanded by French workers in the super market, the government responded with new benefits for the employers. The weekly working hours increased to 60, with opening on Sundays, with a reduction in workers´rest period between 2 days.
In Belgium, our colleagues have been carrying out various mobilizations in recent days, with main demand being the protection of their lives. 6 Carrefour in Belgium went on strike last Friday demanding the strengthening of workers’ means of protection. On April 1 in Delhaize, the parent company of AB Supermarket in Greece, employees closed stores because there were no gloves, masks or compensations apart from the coupons that have an expiration date.
Also a colleague in Belgium from the Colruyt Group lost his life. Colleagues from the same store complained that “they don’t feel safe at work and that this situation can last months.” Government and employers have refused to confirm whether other workers were tested and found to be positive for the virus.
In Spain, supermarket workers say they “feel too exposed.” It is sad to say that some supermarket chains in a health crisis value sales more than the health of their employees.
In Italy, with the start of the pandemic, a cashier died of coronavirus in Brescia, sparking a debate over the protection of workers in supermarkets. Last week, we had the last recorded death with a security guard in a supermarket losing his life. The unions and several media estimate that other workers have died without the deaths being recorded as cases of coronavirus. Workers say they are inadequately protected and fear that they are “bringing something back to their homes”, that they are not “properly equipped to fight the pandemic”.
They also complain that in addition to the required health care measures they are demanding, they are working non-stop, with constant overtime. They say that “instead of reducing working hours and closing at the weekends”, they decided to do 12 hours and more shifts for consecutive days”, adding that supermarkets” are not a social service as it is implied, but a hunt of profits “during the pandemic”.
In USA, where the virus is advancing rapidly, at least four supermarket workers across the country have lost their lives in recent days alone. A colleague from a Manhattan store says they have had two cases at her workplace and that she has worked with them in the same shifts for the past two weeks. “I’m afraid to go to work and worry about a job that pays a few bucks an hour,” she says.
Super market workers know that they were at the forefront of this pandemic. Everyone recognizes this. It can be seen from the campaigns and the public “thanks” of the companies, the media, the governments.
Is that enough? Is it enough to say that they are heroes? Behind the scene, the big words and flattery lies exploitation, hypocrisy, lies. We will respond with the words of a colleague from Italy. Some say we are “heroes,” he says. “I do not think so. We are doing our job. I don’t want to be a hero. Just respect my life.”
Dear colleagues, we must speak the truth! Employees in the cash registers, on the shelves, in the refrigerators, in the power supply, the workers who are exposed to the virus, are among the lowest paid, and the worst paid. The vast majority of them work part time, with four-hour, six hours and not by their choice. There are several employees who work for short-term and short-term fixed-term contracts, that is, employees who are now exposed to the virus and will be unemployed tomorrow. In France, as well as in our country, the big groups of super markets showed the extraordinary bonuses they gave, with the aim of showing a face of social responsibility, indirectly ensuring unpaid advertising. In France, workers called these bonuses “death bonus.” A bonus ,which by the way is not mandatory, cannot be considered a salary and does not oblige companies to pay insurance contributions, cannot be above the protection of life, equalize or exceed the absence of means of protection, exposure to the virus.
The announced bonuses are for the most part, orders for mass purchases that are returned to the funds of the same companies. In pandemic conditions, workers should have been fully protected from the since the beginning with all means of protection, a guaranteed and mandatory benefit for unhealthy work, and above all a permanent and stable job, with full employment and insurance rights, with 8 hours-5 days work week. Whatever else is said is hollow and hypocritical, without implying that we underestimate the value of any additions that increase employees’ income.
For all of the above we call on all unions of commerce supermarket workers and private sector employees, businesses and industries across the country to set Wednesday, April 15, as the day of intervention and action, information and demand in the workplaces of the supermarket chains. Maintaining all the necessary protection measures, our cadres, our members to go in stores, at the start of shifts, at breaks, at the end of the shifts. To highlight the demands for protection, to support our colleagues in the super markets, to denounce the employers’ arbitrariness.
We call our colleagues in the super markets to defend their lives, the lives of their families. To put forward the issues of protection, their health, their rights.
Our colleagues in the hospitals say that the covered mouths have a voice. This voice is theirs, ours, it must be strengthened!
No one to be left alone against the pandemic
All over Greece-April 15 we organize
National Action Day of Workers in Commerce-Supermarkets
Poster of Commerce Union of Athens