Retail workers and the pandemic


Sir, – Among several issues addressed in Stephen Collins’s recent column (Opinion & Analysis, January 15th), one in particular stood out: “The Mandate trade union, representing the retail trade, has made the valid claim that they deserve to be treated as frontline workers. In fact the 100,000 or so people who staff our supermarkets and essential shops are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. They have been risking their health and working away without complaint since it started, regardless of the danger. Contrast their public-spirited attitude with that of the teachers’ unions.”

“Public-spirited attitude” must be the best euphemism I have ever heard for “badly paid insecure jobs”.

Of course retail workers have been saddled with disproportionate risks to their own health and that of their families, compared with public sector workers with much stronger job security and dramatically higher levels of unionisation. (In another context, the ongoing Debenhams debacle has exposed the systemic disempowering of retail workers in standing up for their interests.)

Notwithstanding the efforts of Mandate and other unions representing customer-facing workers to highlight the dangers these workers face, we still do not require employers to provide “hazard pay” to compensate frontline workers for the extra risks they face in keeping the rest of us fed, cared for, and (for four months until the situation became untenable) our children educated.

I trust your columnist is saving for his next column his call for higher wages in service industries to value properly the work done by our “unsung heroes”. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.