19:49 GMT06 August 2020
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    UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma has confirmed that all non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen in England on Monday. He said retailers can open as long as they follow the safety guidelines laid out by the government.

    Yet the secretary was hesitant to talk about the possibility of reducing the two-metre social distancing rule, which some shops may be unable to adequately police.

    Beside this, many fear that shop workers will not be sufficiently protected. Reports from countries that have reopened have shown that frontline retail workers are at a higher risk of physical and verbal abuse from customers. But is the customer always right?

    Doctor Anastasios Hadjisolomou, programme director at Strathclyde University’s Department of Work, Employment and Organisation shares his views on the ways in which workers can be protected during the reopening of shops.

    Sputnik: In what ways can frontline shop and retail workers be protected once non-essential shops open next week?

    Anastasios Hadjisolomou: Employers will take some kind of precaution. I can tell you about what we have seen in the supermarket: you have to wear your mask, they will give you hand sanitizer and gloves, there gave them all this PPE to use. So I'm hoping that retail shops will do the same, [that] they will introduce some restrictions on how many customers they let into the store and how long the customer can spend in the store and also give them some PPE and hand sanitisers to us in order to keep both the customer and employee safe.

    Sputnik: Now with these precautions, we've seen an element of a backlash in America, where some things like face coverings have been introduced. Do you expect to see something similar in the UK or a rise in the levels of aggravation from customers towards workers?

    Anastasios Hadjisolomou: Unfortunately yes, because what happens in retail is this whole tradition of "the customer always being right" is breaking up. So, the customer is going to a shop, whether that is retail, food, or even hospitality and they expect some kind of standards in what kind of service they get. So with the introduction of all these different measures, you know, there are delays in service, there are restrictions on how much you know the customers can get and how fast they can be served, and all these different issues. The tensions are quite high at the moment. I was talking to food retail workers and the tensions are still high from the beginning of the pandemic and are rising constantly. 

    Because, you know, there are delays and there are more queues, there are delays in service and customers are not used to that. The customers have learned: "I go in, I do my shopping quickly, and I get out". So, with all the measures, yes, there will be restrictions and the customers will get annoyed and annoyed and unfortunately, that annoyance is going out on the employee; the employee receives all the abuse and all the negative emotions from the customer.

    Sputnik: Earlier in the year, Boris Johnson said he wanted to protect shop workers from a rising sense of aggravation from customers. What is the government doing to protect shop workers beyond just health and safety precautions?

    Anastasios Hadjisolomou: I don't think they do much. It's very positive that we started recognising that retail workers are being abused. It's very positive that this is now under the spotlight. The media has started talking about it and it has become available for the public to be aware that this is happening in retail, and this is something that shouldn't be happening in retail. It's something that our society should reconsider. 

    It's not just about the government. I mean in the government - there are new laws that have been proposed in terms of having a customer be responsible for their behaviour; that abuse from the customer should be a criminal offence. This is something that both Westminster and Scotland are considering, but we're still far away from a proper law and these being introduced. So it's about what the customers should be doing and not necessarily what the government is doing. We probably need to reconsider how we behave. The retailers have to retrain the customers that think behaviour like that this is acceptable. These people are here to do their job to serve you and they shouldn't receive any kind of abuse, whatever the abuse is.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    shopping, shops, retail, restrictions, coronavirus, COVID-19, United Kingdom
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