SOCIETY is being put at risk because of “punitive” measures against workers put in place by Waitrose during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is claimed.

Staff at the upmarket food stores have been told they will have to “pay back” time taken off if they have to self-isolate due to family members showing symptoms of the deadly disease.

Any workers with severe underlying health issues who stay at home to shield themselves will also have to pay back up to two weeks of the work they have missed, a whistleblower told the Sunday National. She said that also applied to anyone staying at home to shield a vulnerable family member.

The policy could result in staff coming in and spreading infection to members of the public because they cannot afford to stay at home, according to the whistleblower.

“My biggest concern around this is that really vulnerable people will not self-isolate or shield, and those who need to self-isolate due to family illness will put society as a whole at risk due to these punitive measures,” she said.

“Shoppers could be put at risk if we have partners with sick spouses or children coming into the stores.”

Waitrose and John Lewis stores are part of the John Lewis Partnership and staff are referred to as partners by the company.

“Partnership my ar*e,” said the whistleblower. “We are key to people getting the food they need and the Partnership has chosen to single us out for this treatment.”

The workers are incensed because almost 1400 John Lewis staff have been furloughed on full pay during the pandemic after the company closed its 50 stores last week. Some have been asked to work in Waitrose stores but if they volunteer they will not be expected to pay back any time if they self-isolate, the whistleblower said.

Complaints have been raised with management about the treatment of the Waitrose workers but she said it was important for the public to know about the “risky” policy.

“Despite all the assistance put in place for John Lewis as a whole from the governments of the UK, one section of the workforce is being treated appallingly and unfairly,” the worker said.

“We have no choice. We have to work – we are ‘key workers’. We are not only expected to work our contracted shifts, but also to pick up others where necessary to ensure the food supply is maintained.”

News about the payback was given to the workforce the same day it was announced they would be given a bonus of £200 for carrying on working.

“That wouldn’t even pay back 25 hours of our time,” said the whistleblower. “It’s an insult to us all. Especially, as the John Lewis Partners who work for the same partnership are sitting at home, furloughed and self-isolating, on full pay for 12 weeks when Waitrose Partners who are doing the right thing will lose two weeks’ pay, or have to work an additional 78 hours.

“John Lewis partners have been furloughed on 100% pay and that is fine and some of them can choose to volunteer in their local Waitrose but if then then have to self-isolate they are not having to pay back any time. That was confirmed to us today.

“One half of the company are being favoured and the other half are being penalised and they are the ones who are still working.

“We are really angry – scunnered. One woman said that she was so touched a couple of weeks ago because she finally felt valued as a key worker but now that had been taken away.

“Lots of people who have worked with Waitrose for ages and who are self isolating or shielding family members are now getting phone calls saying they will have to pay time back.

“It’s just a massive kick in the teeth.

“Most of the staff are really honest but now they will have to lie and come in to work even if they are not supposed to or pay back between 74 and 78 hours if they are full time and self-isolate for a fortnight.

“They are allowing us to carry it into 2021 but we are having to do these extra hours because we did the right thing to protect the public. It will be problematic if you have two jobs to make ends meet or if you have to pick up kids and don’t have spare time.

“It is shocking in this time of emergency.”

A spokesperson for Waitrose said the company was asking staff to “time bank where possible”.

“However we understand that isn’t possible for everyone so each case will be looked at on an individual basis and discussed with their manager,” she said.

The spokeswoman added: “The health of our partners is our absolute priority. We have provided guidance to partners who may have a suppressed immune system to check with their primary healthcare professional regarding their specific needs before discussing work adjustments with their manager.

“For all partners who are self-isolating due to a family member displaying Covid-19 symptoms, if they are physically well enough themselves to work then we will explore the option of working at home in the first instance.

“However, as with many of our shop floor partners, this is not an option available to them. Therefore, these partners will be paid in full for the duration of their self-isolation. For partners who are self-isolating for more than seven days, we require them to obtain an online isolation note from the NHS 111 website and provide this to their people manager upon their return to work.

“Where possible we are asking partners to time bank. However, we understand that isn't possible for everyone so each case will be looked at on an individual basis and discussed with their manager.

A spokesperson for Usdaw, which has members in Waitrose, said the union was not recognised by the company and so was not briefed on their policies. However he added: “We are expecting employers to take appropriate security measures to keep workers safe. Any Usdaw member with concerns should contact the union for advice.”

Supermarkets dealt with record demand in March, new figures have shown. Sales rose by 20.6% in the last four weeks, and 7.6% in the last 12.

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