A union that represents thousands of retail workers in Saskatchewan is calling on the province to develop enforceable safety requirements for stores that are still open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1400 (UFCW1400) sent a letter to Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer on Tuesday, urging the province to make its safety recommendations to requirements.
“More has to be done to protect the front-line retail workers to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of everyone relying on this public service,” reads the letter from UFCW1400 president Norm Neault.
“Front-line workers are in high-risk employment, and safety measures need to be mandated and standardized.”
The provincial government’s long list of guidelines for grocery stores includes recommendations to place hand sanitizer near doors, limit cashier handling of credit cards, and promote social distancing with floor markers and intercom messages.
Rod Gillies, UFCW1400’s director of negotiations, said provincial recommendations need to be enforceable and consistent in all stores, including grocery and convenience stores and gas stations.
“These front-line workers have exposure to so many people during a shift and we have to remember that they have families to go home to,” Gillies told Global News.
Many of the union’s members have expressed concerns about how many people are allowed in stores at a time, he said.
The union wants the province to mandate limits on customers and store hours. It also wants all stores to hire security guards to enforce physical distancing and purchase limits on popular items.
Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said some people who have tested COVID-19 positive contracted the disease while shopping.
He stressed the need for people to minimize time spent at grocery stores.
Safety measures have varied slightly from store to store, according to Saskatchewan’s Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU).
“It was hectic in the beginning and we certainly didn’t know what we were dealing with,” said Paul Guillet, the union’s administrative coordinator.
“It’s been a moving target, so some retailers are better than others.”
He attributed that to a steep learning curve and said safety measures at grocery stores have improved drastically over the past few weeks.
Many RWDSU members fear getting sick if rules put in place by retailers aren’t respected, Guillet said.
“Customers should be treating our front-line workers carefully.”
The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) recommends people shop alone, touch only what they take, practice physical distancing, and bag their own items in the bags provided by grocers.
“Across the province, we’ve seen really … great support from both customers and employees,” said John Graham, RCC’s director of government relations for the Prairies.
“We’re bringing a whole bunch of people into one retail space, so we have to work collaboratively together to ensure that we are ensuring the safety and health for everyone that shops and works in those stores.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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