While grocery retailers in Canada continue to grapple with daily challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, their European counterparts are also struggling and an online Reuters press story about grocery retailers in France sheds light on such challenges.
While supermarket workers everywhere face similar fears about the spread of COVID-19, in France they have the right in law to walk off the job, on full pay, if they don’t feel safe. And managers are finding it hard to keep their shelves filled and tills staffed.
Absenteeism has reached 10-15 per cent across the French supermarket sector, trade unions say, and in some stores has hit 40 per cent.
Workers are off because they need to look after children with schools closed, because they are sick themselves, or in some cases because they have stayed at home out of fear.
But at a hypermarket run by Carrefour, Europe’s biggest retailer, near the city of Marseille, some 200 workers out of 515 walked out on Monday, citing a lack of protective gear.
They only resumed work after store managers distributed a newly-acquired batch of face masks.
Carrefour said absences were on average 10% higher than usual, but largely due to staff having to take leave to look after children.
Some French supermarkets are calling in temporary workers or students to help, as well as office-based staff.
Supermarkets are also trying to persuade existing staff to work through the coronavirus crisis. Along with rivals such as Leclerc and Auchan, Carrefour has offered staff an extra 1,000 euros tax free.
A mask a day
After the government lifted a requisition order on masks made in France for medical workers, Carrefour said it had managed to get hold of its first supplies of 2 million on Sunday though a private order, and would receive some 20 million more.
But employees and unions said that protective equipment was not always reaching stores on time or in enough quantities.
“We have one mask a day, that’s far from being total protection for us,” said Laetitia Gerbot, a 40-year-old mother of three who works at a Carrefour hypermarket in Bray-sur-Seine, 100 km (60 miles) south-east of Paris.