Usdaw demands Government support for food retail workers as survey reveals 1 in 4 skips meals to pay bills

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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A quarter of workers in the food retail industry skip meals to afford bills each month, according to recent findings from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) cost-of-living survey of more than 5,500 members.

These figures mark an increase from one in 20 workers in February 2021 and one in seven in February 2022.

As the cost of energy bills and fuel continues to rise, workers in food retail can’t afford to eat on a regular basis due to low wages, according to the union.

Some frontline workers commented on being forced to eat just once a day with their child, and experiencing stress headaches, insomnia, and panic attacks from the fear of how growing living costs might impact everyday life.

Others taking part in the survey also spoke of having to borrow money from family to afford petrol to get to work, using their car solely to get to and from their workplace due to high petrol prices, and only being able to afford petrol for one day with their first hour’s wage.

At the national Trades Union Congress rally last Saturday, Usdaw President Jane Jones said: “We work hard, we show up every day and do the jobs that keep the country running. We deserve respect, but this Government laughed at us when they partied through the pandemic and now they are now telling us that we are the ones who will have to pay for the pandemic.

“They are failing at every turn to take the action we need, urgent action to stop people falling into poverty.”

Inflation reached a 40-year high in the UK this week as the Retail Prices Index rose to 11.7% and the Consumer Prices Index to 9.1%, making Government support for low paid workers essential and urgent, according to the union.

Jones has called for a pay rise for essential workers in the food retail industry as well as the introduction of “A new deal that transforms our social security system into a proper safety net… A new deal where working people can thrive, rather than [struggle] to survive.

The recommendations in Usdaw’s New Deal for Workers includes:

  • Setting a minimum wage of at least £12 an hour (with the hope of increasing this to £15 for all workers)
  • Ensuring equal pay for all workers
  • Having a minimum contract of 16 hours a week for whoever wants it and banning zero-hour contracts
  • Improving job security with workers having employment rights for unfair dismissal from their first day and developing redundancy protection
  • Putting an end to allowing employers to not engage with trade unions and prohibiting the ‘fire and rehire’ practice
  • Allowing workers access to better sick pay from their first day
  • Creating a better social security system
  • Ensuring workers are properly protected from abuse in the workplace

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary said: “Repeated calls for wage restraint shows that Ministers are failing to understand the scale of the challenge faced by millions of low-paid key workers.”

“People claiming in-work welfare payments need an immediate increase by at least the level of inflation. This should be followed by an urgent and fundamental overhaul of Universal Credit to ensure a social security benefit that properly supports claimants. Usdaw additionally calls for a reduction in VAT, which is generally accepted to be a regressive tax, adversely impacting low income households.”

Jones added: “We cannot accept that workers are condemned to live on poverty pay; that they are not even guaranteed the working hours they need to get by from one week to the next. Shop workers, distribution workers, manufacturing workers, in constituency after constituency are watching. We need action and we need action now.”

Workers in the food retail industry have also been rallying with unions in the United States, as many major companies such as Starbucks and McDonald’s are still paying their workers less than the national living wage.

Large-scale food companies worldwide such as Quorn and Unilever have recently partnered with the Workforce Nutrition Alliance to improve the quality of working life by developing healthier and more sustainable food and drink offerings in the workplace, and providing better access to nutritional education and consultations.

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