Trade union’s ‘deep concerns’ over Lincolnshire Co-op’s coronavirus response

Lincolnshire Co-op has hit back at a trade union’s claims it is ‘putting profits before public health and staff welfare’ during the coronavirus crisis.

Market Rasen Co-op

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) says it is ‘deeply concerned’ and is calling on the Lincolnshire Co-op to end its ‘mean-spirited’ response to furloughed, self-isolating and vulnerable staff.

The shopworkers’ union is urging the Co-op to end the removal of staff discount from employees who are furloughed and fully pay vulnerable staff off work and those who are self-isolating, so they do not have to survive on statutory sick pay of £95.85 per week.

But the Co-op says it is ‘incredibly grateful’ to its staff and that their safety and job security was a ‘priority’.

Usdaw National Officer John Gorle said: “Usdaw is seeking to improve the response of Lincolnshire Co-op Society to the Coronavirus emergency, but regrettably we are coming up against some resistance over a number of issues.

“The Society is engaging in some pretty mean-spirited measures, such as removing staff discount for those who opt for furlough rather than being redeployed, paying SSP to those who are self-isolating because they live with someone who has symptoms and refusing to pay staff in the vulnerable category unless they have a letter evidencing their condition.

“We are deeply concerned that the Society is putting profits before public health and staff welfare.

“Staff should not risk the further spread of Covid-19 because they cannot afford to be off work when they should be.

“In the midst of a national crisis, we have to be working together to get through it and unfortunately this Co-op society is not being very co-operative.

“Shopworkers are on the frontline of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may contract Covid-19.

“So we expect employers to treat our retail heroes with dignity and respect.”

A Lincolnshire Co-op spokesman said: “We are incredibly grateful to our 3,000 colleagues.

“It’s one of the reasons we gave all colleagues - whether furloughed or still at work - a colleague bonus equivalent to an extra week’s wages in March.

“The vast majority of our colleagues also received a pay rise in April, ranging from 2.5 per cent to 7 per cent.

“The coronavirus pandemic will have an enormous impact on our economy.

“Lincolnshire Co-op’s priority has been to safely maintain as many local jobs as possible and to do our best to protect and support our colleagues who are in work.

“To do that, we have to take a long-term view and offer a sustainable package of support which can be maintained.

“We have also talked with our unions and taken legal advice.

“We have a diverse business. Some of our outlets are still open and busy, providing desperately needed services in rural communities.

“However, some have closed and others face significant challenges in terms of footfall and limits on services.

“We have introduced measures for our colleagues including an advice centre and counselling.

“We have invested £200,000 in PPE, social distancing and hand-sanitising equipment, and have employed an extra 250 colleagues to support our front-line teams.

“We’ve also adjusted working hours and practices across the business.

The spokesman said staff discount was paid onto an employee’s dividend card and can then be spent on Lincolnshire Co-op services.

The amount varies from 5 per cent to 10 per cent depending on the service.

The spokesman said: “We have three variations of the furlough scheme – those who have caring responsibilities where those arrangements have broken down, those who are shielding and those colleagues whose work has stopped due to Coronavirus.

“All furloughed colleagues received the colleague bonus of a week’s extra wage and many have also received a pay increase.

“90 colleagues have been offered furlough as they are not working because of circumstances outside of their control. They will still receive colleague discount.

“Those colleagues whose work has stopped were offered redeployment opportunities in other parts of the business, where they would have maintained their current terms and conditions including the discretionary colleague discount.

“45 people have taken the decision not to do this.

“We have temporarily suspended the discount as it is designed to be a benefit for colleagues who are in the business – we’d welcome these colleagues back when they wish to return.”

Responding to Usdaw’s claims Lincolnshire Co-op is refusing to pay staff in the vulnerable category unless they have a letter evidencing their condition, the spokesman said: “Colleagues who are classed as being extremely vulnerable, with a letter from the NHS, are receiving full pay.

“To be fair to all our colleagues and for audit purposes, it is important that we evidence this so we ask our colleagues to provide a letter confirming their condition.

“We have worked with colleagues to help them gather this information.”

Lincolnshire Co-operative is an independent consumer co‑operative with stores in Lincolnshire and Newark, and a pharmacy in Hunstanton. It employs almost 3,000 staff.