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France’s essential shop cashiers live in fear of the Coronavirus as lack of information and safety standards leave them confused

France’s essential shop cashiers live in fear of the Coronavirus as lack of information and safety standards leave them confused

AS France enters its seventh week in lockdown and most French workers being asked to stay at home, essential supermarket cashiers are on the front lines more than ever.

Since the start of the lockdown, recommended hygiene rules have been applied differently across retail stores. Plexiglass windows were installed to protect cashiers but do not completely separate the cashier from the customer. Gloves are optional, their use is disputed by scientists. It is the same for ensuring how many shoppers come through the door at the same time, with the number varying from one shop to another.

Amid conflicting messages as to what are the best protective measures against the virus, it is not surprising that workers are confused. This lack of coherence has outraged union representatives. “We asked them to standardise protective measures, but some large companies tell us that each manager is entitled to do as he or she wishes in their store,” said Sylvie Vachoux, the federal secretary representing the retail sector for the CGT union.

On March 18, the secretary-general of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, declared companies were not abiding by the rules, referring to the lack of equipment but also flexibility for mothers who were required to stay at home because of school closures without fear of losing their jobs.

In any case, the risk of contracting Covid-19 continues to exist for retail workers. On March 27, a 52-year-old cashier from the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis died from the virus.

The stress surrounding the pandemic has meant cashiers find themselves often dealing with rude customers. “People are so stressed, it’s very, very hard,” said one cashier.

She spoke about what happened to one of her colleagues. “A customer arrived and refused to put his purchases on the counter, objecting that he did not want them to be contaminated. My colleague replied that she cleans it often, as she uses it all day long. In return, the guy said ‘Well, you’re going to get it anyway.”

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Damon Mitchell

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As frontman of a rock band Damon used to court the British press, now he lives the quiet life in Spain and seeks to get to the heart of the community, scoring exclusive interviews with ex-pats about their successes and struggles during their new life in the sun.

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