Supermarket owner asks customers ‘please do not be abusive’

Clonakilty store tells customers it is ‘unfair and unacceptable’ to vent frustration on staff

The owner of a Co Cork supermarket is appealing to customers not to be abusive, after a number of clashes over distancing requirements in supermarkets in the last week.

Supervalu Clonakilty owner Eugene Scally was moved to protect his staff, telling customers “unfortunately, some of you feel that it is acceptable to verbally abuse” staff when requested to observe the new guidelines.

Mr Scally said the new guidelines included allowing just one shopper per family into the store as well as rules on the numbers of shoppers in the store and the distance they should keep apart at tills and in queues.

But he said these appeared to spark tensions. Posting on the supermarket’s Twitter account he said “we have always welcomed our customers with open arms” but he was now asking the customers to, “to stand back, to be patient” and to shop alone.


In a series of messages he said “our team are doing their best to control numbers in store and maintain social distancing while trying to go about their own daily activities”.

He said: “It is unfair and unacceptable to take frustrations out on people who are doing their utmost to give you their time and serve you.

“While this request will only apply to a small minority of people, we would like to thank all our customers for shopping with us and look forward to better days.”

Mr Scally was not available on Sunday but store manager Pat Griffin said “95 percent of our customers appreciate the new rules. Unfortunately some do have a problem and have no problem in telling you they do”.

He said many of the frontline store staff on checkouts had felt intimidated.

“It started about a week or a week and a half ago and it seems some people may have a little bit of cabin fever [from staying at home too much] and maybe think the rules should be relaxed a bit more”.

The appeal to customers to show respect for staff comes as a survey of 7,000 retail workers in 300 separate businesses showed most retail workers were concerned about their personal protection during the coronavirus crisis.

The survey was conducted by retail trade union Mandate, over a ten day period between 10th and 20th April with 6,942 respondents.

Its key findings were:

- 46 percent said social distancing and crowd control measures were not being adhered to;

- 29 percent said they have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);

- 23 percent said shopping trollies/baskets not regularly sanitised;

- 21 percent said they had insufficient hand sanitiser; and

- 18 percent said there were insufficient protective shields/screens.

Mandate general secretary John Douglas said staff were doing their best to “flatten the curve” and protect the most vulnerable. But he said frontline workers were saying social distancing “needs to be stricter and the one person/one trolley measure needs to be tightened up.

“So many customers are coming in with three people in the one family. Also customers coming in telling us that they are in the store ‘just to get out of the house’. ”

Mr Douglas added: “Many retail workers believe the hazard pay they are receiving, if any at all, is inadequate. The average retail worker believes a 20percent premium should apply as compensation for the risks they and their families are taking while they’re at work.”

Mandate is currently running a Respect Retail Workers Campaign campaign to protect retail workers. The union said campaign came about as a result of an increase in complaints from workers regarding the amounts of both verbal and physical abuse from customers.

The union said there was a “small number of people who tend to abuse retail workers” and Mandate was intent on securing “stronger health and safety protections in the workplace for vulnerable workers in Irish retail.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist