My life is currently worth about the price of a reusable bag

An anonymous supermarket worker shares her thoughts on the government and public's behaviour during the pandemic

Photo: Somerset Gazette

This is not a false equivalency, believe me I have done the maths. If a covid positive customer comes in to buy a bag and then I get sick, hospitalised and die that would all have happened for the price of said bag. What is the going rate of a human life these days? 20 pence if you are a retail worker. I feel the need to clarify this stands for transport workers, security guards, cleaners, porters and any other ‘unskilled key worker’ and that’s the rub isn’t it? ‘Unskilled.’  We are not in the news and nobody claps for us. Nobody campaigns for our pay increase and we are just expected to be there. We are largely forgotten. We haven’t been trained to save your life, drive an ambulance or put out fire. We are not able to care for the elderly or break up anti-covid demonstrations. We are key workers in name only. We drive you to work and provide your lunch, mop your offices and guard you from shoplifters. Us ‘unskilled’ keep you and the country running with great personal risk, terrible conditions and very low pay.

And we are dying. Caring, leisure and other services are occupations found to have a higher death rate in men. The Office for National Statistics shows this is due to a variety of factors including proximity to people, whether we can work from home and furlough possibility. A deliveroo driver has to go to work or they won’t get paid, even if they are sick. Even with covid. A retail worker cannot work from home. If tram drivers are furloughed how can people get about? So is it the profession or lack of options? My working day contains risk from the moment I step outside the door. I have to get on public transport with people who are not wearing masks and are usually, as it’s flu season, coughing all over the bars. I then have to go into work, change my mask, wash my hands and walk onto a shop floor with yet more people who are not wearing masks. Just because the media says we will enforce it, we actually won’t. Company policy and all that. Customers stand too close to me in the aisles and I handle cash all day which, even when it’s handed to me out of someones’ mouth, I still have to take. I change my uniform every day and have a constant supply of clean masks.

Photo: PA

 I don’t mix with other people and I, like most of my colleagues never ‘ate out to help out.’ I served the restaurant staff who were serving you and they were absolutely terrified on a daily basis. For good reason! Preliminary research suggests that the eat out to help out scheme may have caused a spike in cases. I never went out through that period therefore minimising my risk. A lot of my colleagues, like myself, have only seen home and work since March last year. Can you comprehend how depressing that is?

Now, the whispers of death are getting closer and closer.. we are hearing that staff numbers are dropping in other shops and that people might need to cover. We are on edge, tired of seeing the same faces everyday but being so wholly relieved they are still here. A colleague gets sick and we worry first for ourselves and then them. At the beginning we were begging for mild versions just so we could take 2 weeks away from the madness and now some of us would beg on our knees to be furloughed. I feel like death is breathing down my neck everyday. A colleague recently died from covid and as I was writing in his condolences book I wondered what everyone would say in mine. We are essential workers, but it’s not essential for us to be alive.

Article submitted anonymously.


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