A message from students working in retail: Wear a damn mask

‘They only work if everyone wears one’

The government has announced that face coverings in shops in England will be mandatory from 24th July. This is to minimise the spread of coronavirus as lockdown measures across the country have begun to ease. The government stated police officers would enforce the rules, and could hand out fines of £100 to anyone who doesn’t wear a mask.

Previously, face masks have only been mandatory on public transport in England, but the news comes as a relief to many retail workers, especially those in supermarkets who have remained open throughout the pandemic, who feel the safety of retail staff has been ignored.

The new regulations follow similar rules in Scotland where face coverings must be worn in retail environments. The Tab spoke to retail staff about their thoughts about the new regulations.

“It’s a good thing”

Rebecca is a Lancaster student working in Morrison’s. She told The Tab she welcomed the government’s decision. “I’ve been struggling with the fact that staff have to be covered head to toe in PPE, when for the customers coming in it’s completely up to them.” She says before masks were mandatory, “it made you wonder if wearing it was entirely performative so I definitely got think it’s a good thing”.

Laura, a Coventry student who works in Thornton’s, told The Tab: “The fact that it is going to be mandatory is such a good thing!” She says it will lead retail staff to feel safer whilst at work.

Susie is a Southampton student who works for an independent shop. She said the new regulations are “a good thing” as face masks “work best as prevention if everyone wears them”.

“I’ve been back at work for about a month now and I haven’t served any customers wearing masks or gloves”

The pandemic has led to a massive surge in sales for facemasks with supermarkets stocking face masks alongside larger quantities of hand sanitiser. However, Laura told The Tab: “Anyone who does wear a mask wears it on their chin which is pointless.”

Rebecca expressed concern as “customers rarely wear masks, honestly if I did a shift on tills say 10-4 I would maybe count about five customers who wear masks. I’d serve about 75 in one of those shifts.”

However, Susie told The Tab: “To be fair, a lot of people have been wearing them but probably about 50 per cent of the customers still don’t”.

“It’s so heartbreaking because this virus is still killing people but because all the shops are open people assume everything’s normal again”

Retail staff have shared their concern about customers refusing to cover their faces, with many concerned that there will not be enough police for every shop to enforce the new rules.

“Almost undoubtedly, people have walked away from the customer cafe for not wanting to sign track and track, or because they can’t swap their beans for an extra sausage. They will definitely turn away if we ask them to wear a mask,” Rebecca said of her experience working in a supermarket cafe.

Rebecca says she’s worried that police might not be able to be at every shop and the new regulations “clash with the ‘customer is always right’ mantra we are trained with”.

“The amount of shit supermarket staff face on a daily basis, I can see the mask guideline being the same,” she said. “Customers to be pandered over, they do not like being told what to do.”

Laura says some customers have not been taking any precautions with some “rarely using the hand sanitisers we have in place around the shop”. Retail workers have also expressed concern that now customers can be turned away from entering a shop if they’re not wearing a face covering it may lead them to become more aggression to workers.

Retail staff also said people already disregard shop policies such as how many people are allowed in the shop and that enforcing face coverings may be much harder than the government thinks. Susie said: “Trying to stock up, serve, do deliveries at the same time as making sure the right numbers are in the shop is quite hard to implementing masks is bound to have its issues”.

Meanwhile on Twitter, #nomasks, has been trending following the government’s announcement.

Rebecca said her colleagues imagine customers will lay blame retail staff for having to wear a mask all of a sudden. “They will act like we wrote out government guidelines.”

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