Empty supermarket shelves, photo

Empty supermarket shelves, photo   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Scott Jones, Usdaw union member (personal capacity)

Many shop and supermarket shelves are being stripped of hand wash, toilet rolls and some food lines such as dry pasta, as people panic buy and stockpile because of coronavirus.

Under pressure to do something about this, some retailers have put limits on the amount of certain items that shoppers can buy. Tesco has put a quantity limit of five on antibacterial gels, wipes and sprays, dry pasta, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables. Others have limited hand sanitiser to two bottles per person.

For now, this is welcome. When I worked for Tesco in Wales and the local area had bad snow, the traditional rush for milk and bread took place. It meant many people couldn’t buy any themselves.

Concerned, staff proposed a solution of limiting the amount individuals could buy. As the trade union shop steward I took the suggestion to management, but was told it wasn’t really in the company’s interest – that interest being profit. Therefore, we can’t rely on the bosses to manage distribution of essential goods.

Guarantee access

To control and combat Covid-19 it’s vital that everybody has access to washing products, basics like toilet roll, and of course food. Especially as those who can least afford to stockpile, and are worst hit by panic shortages, are workers on the lowest incomes with little cash and time.

The government has put its full trust in retail bosses, with Tory minister Oliver Dowden saying “we are confident that supermarkets have the supply chains necessary to keep shelves stocked for people.”

He’s clearly never worked in a supermarket! Supply chains work on a very short-term basis, and a few days’ interruption to deliveries could leave stores empty of essential goods.

Usdaw and other shop workers’ unions should immediately convene democratic meetings of union reps from stores and distribution centres, alongside representatives of local shop customers. The unions should demand a say in how the sale and distribution of goods is controlled, and consider direct action if the situation worsens.