The shopworkers’ union says the government’s proposed reduction of the two-metre social distancing rule could be “disastrous” for its members.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has voiced its opposition to the proposed change to the two-metre social distancing rule.
Today Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that from Saturday 4 July the two-metre rule will be reduced to “one metre plus”, paving the way for a further easing of lockdown measures that will see pubs, restaurants and cinemas reopening.
However, ahead of the announcement this afternoon Usdaw’s general secretary Paddy Lillis cast doubt on the new social distancing rule, saying that there is “plenty of evidence to show that two-metre separation is at least twice as safe as one metre”.
Lillis highlighted that the current two-metre rule had been developed via discussions with unions, retailers and the government, and stressed that any change to the rule should not be made “without full discussion and agreement”.
The safety of our members and the public is our top priority, so Usdaw worked with the British Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops based on the two-metre rule. Retailers have to publish risk assessments and implement robust safety measures and it appears that they have taken that seriously and are complying.
Reducing the two-metre rule in stores could be disastrous for our members and send a message to the public that social distancing is over. It has taken a lot of hard work and effort to make the changes to encourage customers to follow two-metre distancing in shops that stayed open throughout the lockdown.
Non-essential retailers have also redesigned their stores on the basis of two-metre social distancing for their reopening. Changing the rules would be an unnecessary burden on business, compromise the safety of staff and customers and create confusion.
There is plenty of evidence to show that two-metre separation is at least twice as safe as one metre. Independent SAGE warns that the risk of transmission is still too high to reduce social distancing rules indoors.
The Independent SAGE group have also responded to the relaxing of the two-metre rule, suggesting that the move would “effectively end social distancing in Britain” and also saying that the daily number of new coronavirus cases is still too high for the reduction.
Apart from the increased risk of infection, there is also likely to be a rise in violence and abuse because of the confusion it will cause.
One of the triggers for abuse of staff at present is conflict between customers when someone is perceived to be getting too close and not following the rules. This is likely to get worse once a change is announced.
Covid-19 is still a killer disease that is at large in our communities. Retail has adapted well to the new circumstances, it is not necessary to change the two-metre rule and it certainly shouldn’t be done without full discussion and agreement.
Usdaw welcomes the government’s rethink on Sunday trading laws
In other news, Usdaw has welcomed reports that the government will not be going ahead with plans to deregulate Sunday trading hours.
There had been recent speculation that the government were looking at extending Sunday opening hours for shops in a bid to boost the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
However, following opposition from as many as 50 Conservative MP’s, the government has moved to keep the plan “under review”.
Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis said of the move:
We appreciate the desire to help the retail sector, but the proposal to undo a long-held and workable compromise on Sunday trading was misguided and overwhelmingly rejected by shopworkers. We welcome reports that the government has rejected the proposal to make shopworkers work longer on Sundays.
What the retail sector needs now is a tripartite approach of unions, employers and government sitting down talking about what a retail recovery plan will look like. We have long called for an industrial strategy for retail to help a sector that was already struggling before the coronavirus emergency. The government needs to level the playing field on taxation between online and the high street, as well as enable councils to breathe new life into town centres and make them community hubs.
The Sunday Trading Act is a great compromise that has worked well for over 25 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shopworkers can spend some time with their family. It is good news that a divisive deregulation plan has been put to one side and we can now focus on pulling together to tackle the crisis on our high streets and help save our shops and the jobs of the retail workers who have served their communities tirelessly throughout coronavirus.