EXCLUSIVE – A Internal Document from The Co-operative Food Group has revealed an alarming policy that they have implemented relating to NHS England’s “Test and Trace” program. The document dated 30th July, advises Co-op staff on steps they must take BEFORE cooperating with the scheme designed to help stop the spread of the virus. The details of the policy which can be seen below, raise alarming questions as to the safety and well-being of shop workers and customers.
A concerned staff member from a Co-op store in the North West of England has passed Black Isle Media an internal document showing a new company policy in place from 1st August 2020. The policy marked “confidential” explains steps for staff members to take should they contract COVID-19. It opens with a message that sets the tone for the rest of the document;
“NHS test and trace has started to contact colleagues who’ve tested positive for Covid-19.
“In some cases, in good faith, colleagues have given a list of all colleagues in their store. This has resulted in colleagues being told to isolate, unnecessarily, for 14 days.”
The document, as seen below, then goes on to outline steps Co-op staff should take before giving any names to NHS Test and Trace. Some are as follow;
- If a staff member is contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say they’ve tested positive, they should inform Test and Trace they will call back with details.
- Staff member must then call their store manager.
- A “Response Team” and “Field Officer” are contacted, who then review CCTV to determine who was “within 2 metres for 15 minutes, or face to face for over 1 minute.
- Positive staff member is given list of names they can give to NHS Test and Trace.
This policy raises several questions as to the priorities of the food retailer who prides itself on its more caring attitude than other retailers such as Tesco or Asda. This policy is designed to reduce the number of staff being off work, something which is understandable. However, the company taking the decision out of the positive staff members hands and deciding based on CCTV and time spent together, is alarming. COVID-19 is an airborne virus, and while most people are wearing face coverings in shops, not all are.
Furthermore, are “risk officers” going to time each staff member’s interaction? How will they judge distance? Not all areas may be covered by CCTV. The company is also going to have a bias, conscious or otherwise, towards keeping staff on, whereas a colleague would be more concerned about their friend.
The end of the document has a passage in bold which is rather pressuring towards staff members. It states;
“The most important part of this process, is making sure that the colleague who’s been contacted by the NHS, doesn’t give details of who they’ve worked with, until the Response Team and / or Field Risk Support Officer have investigated.”
The above is very alarming from an health and safety perspective, not to mention a human one. This puts pressure on a staff member to comply with their employer’s instructions, over their own instincts, or of the instructions of the NHS.
While it is completely understandable to want to protect the shop’s operation, staff members and customers should ultimately come first. Stockrooms and staff areas in many stores are often small and enclosed making it impossible to keep the advised 2 metres. Many staff members are not wearing a face covering so their risk is increased in these tight spaces.
Corporate Worries Trump Staff and Customers
The staff member who passed us this document, had this to say;
“I have decided to disclose this as I’m concerned that the Co-op aren’t taking the safety of staff and customers seriously. They market themselves as community champions, but this policy doesn’t reflect that. They are telling us that they will decide who has and hasn’t been close enough based on CCTV.
“I am worried that vulnerable people may be needlessly exposed to Coronavirus because a corporate arm are more concerned about their bottom line. I hope that the Co-op reverse this dangerous policy and tell staff that they should alert NHS track and trace to whoever they feel is at risk.”
The staff member who has asked not to be name out of fear of backlash from colleagues, raises a good point. The Co-op are often seen as the community shop. A policy like this makes them no different to any other retailer who will stop at nothing to protect their bottom line. The only difference here, is that lives could be put at risk.
Co-op Caught in a Lie
The Co-operative Food Group initially denied this was company policy at all. However, I obtained further information from their “Shift App”, (see above),for staff members showing that to be a lie. Upon putting this to them, they refused to comment any further.
UPDATE 10 October, 2020.
Despite being called out in this policy, the Co-op are still enforcing these conditions on their staff. One store in the North of England has seen 5 confirmed positive cases in the past two weeks. However, affected staff members have been told they are not to name any member of staff when giving details to contact tracers, under any circumstances.
The Cooperative Food Group have been contacted for comment, but did not reply by the deadline given.