All us supermarket workers want is for shoppers to follow the rules

Working in a busy major supermarket, I have mixed feelings about the fact that face masks are now mandatory in shops. 

It’s not that I don’t think people should be wearing them. I’ve been donning one for a while now anyway – my wife is a nurse, and she tells me off if I don’t.

But just like everything else throughout this pandemic, I feel like the way the mask issue has been handled hasn’t been clear at all. It’s left us supermarket workers feeling confused and stressed about how to implement this new rule. 

First off, there’s the question of how we’re going to police it. The Government have told shop managers that we have to politely tell customers who come in without a mask that they have to put one on.

Okay – but then what if they don’t listen to us?

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I’m worried about whether the police force actually has the manpower to be going around fining everyone who goes into a shop without wearing a mask. One police force has already said that they won’t be responding to calls about people not wearing masks.

Even if we do call the police, and they agree to come out, there would be at least a few minutes between the incident and the police arriving on the scene. What are we supermarket workers supposed to do in that time? Anything could happen.

We’re all nervous because we don’t want to see a repeat of the beginning of lockdown. Back then, at the pandemic’s height in March and April, it was really tense. 

It was like something out of a zombie film, especially when all the shelves were empty. There was fighting on the shop floor, and at the checkouts, and the queues were ridiculous. At one point it was difficult to cope.  

Worst of all, there was a real sense of animosity between shoppers and supermarket workers. It was especially bad for my colleagues who had to manage the queues outside; there was a lot of racist and sexist abuse directed to staff by customers. Some of my colleagues had to take time off for anxiety issues as a result. It was mentally draining. 

Most customers were brilliant, but a minority made life really hard for us, mostly because they were fed up and frustrated that they couldn’t get what they wanted. 

It makes me a bit worried to see groups of 20-somethings in the shop without masks, but I don’t blame them. I blame the Government for the very confusing messaging

Once we had PPE, and everyone had got used to the new way of doing things, it calmed down a lot. But having been through those difficult weeks, we’re all nervous about this new rule creating tension again. 

The biggest thing that we’re preparing ourselves for is for customers to ask, ‘If you’re not wearing a mask, why should I?’

This is because the official guidance is that masks are now compulsory for customers, but only ‘strongly advised’ for shop workers. 

It doesn’t make any sense: why shouldn’t they be compulsory for everyone? We’re all human at the end of the day. If anything, I could be more contagious – I speak to hundreds of people, maybe even thousands in a week, so the chances of me actually passing the virus on without knowing is probably relatively high compared to someone who’s just coming in to shop once a week.

But if one of my colleagues doesn’t want to wear a mask, there’s nothing that can be done about it. 

Another thing we’re worried about is how people behave when they’re wearing masks. Sometimes, we see shoppers who seem to think that because they’re wearing one, they won’t get ill – so they don’t keep to the social distancing, and they push past people. 

Younger people, especially, seem to be acting as if coronavirus is a thing of the past now. 

It makes me a bit worried to see groups of 20-somethings in the shop without masks, but I don’t blame them. I blame the Government for the very confusing messaging they’ve put out since the beginning of lockdown. 

When you see people all over the beaches and drinking in pubs on the news, then of course you’re getting mixed messages. Just last week, Michael Gove went to Pret A Manger without wearing a mask, despite encouraging people to do just that days before.

It doesn’t help the situation, and it doesn’t educate people who don’t realise how serious the virus is. No one knows what to believe. So how are we supermarket workers then supposed to educate people on what is right and wrong?

It’s going to be tricky. I just hope that the vast amount of the public do wear masks. 

And hopefully those who don’t want to, or don’t believe that there is a virus, will stay home, and not come into my shop.

As told to Aimee Cliff.

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