‘I make my own masks at home’: Cashiers brave the front line in virus-wracked France

Whereas the French public has been ordered to stay home amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, the overwhelming majority of grocery retailer cashiers, most of them women on meagre salaries, have continued to work the tills – performing an necessary operate while their nicely being is put at hazard.

By the time President Emmanuel Macron had declared France “at battle” with coronavirus in a sombre deal with remaining Monday, 40-year-old Joanna, a cashier at a grocery retailer in Brittany, had already braved the “invisible enemy’s” first assaults.

In the hours earlier Macron’s March 16 deal with, as rumours of an impending lockdown swirled all through the nation, supermarkets like Joanna’s had been stormed by wave after wave of anxious consumers on a panic-buying spree, stripping cupboards of most offers from bathroom paper to rice and pasta.

“It was just about unimaginable to walk down the aisles, after which people wanted to queue for an hour sooner than reaching the till,” she tells FRANCE 24, recalling an prolonged queue that meandered alongside the full stretch of the retailer. “By the end of the day, most cupboards had been totally emptied.”

Along with completely different colleagues, Joanna had volunteered to work that day, anticipating the rush. She labored longer hours, decrease her lunch break to the bare minimal after which volunteered for the subsequent day as successfully – while Macron ordered a nationwide lockdown in an increasingly more frantic effort to stave off a rapidly worsening pandemic.

Who’s necessary now?

Although the French authorities has ordered the public to stay at home, stopping work should not be an risk for cashiers who normally reside on the minimal wage – neither is it attainable for them to make cash working from dwelling. 

As is normally the case in such crises, the strain and the hazard fall disproportionately on these employees with the most precarious jobs –professions that are routinely belittled, until governments and the public realise they’re in reality “necessary”. In the case of grocery retailer cashiers, a sector that accounts for 150,000 full-time equal employees, 90 p.c are women.

At Joanna’s workplace, a Great U located near the metropolis of Rennes, employees with youthful children have been allowed to stay home and folks with pre-existing circumstances are on paid sick depart. Nonetheless elsewhere in France, there have been critiques of staff on short-term contracts being ordered to return to work it does not matter what.

“Our supervisor is conscious about the risks and has tried arduous to get us security,” says Joanna, whose children, aged 10 and 11, are old enough to stay alone at home whereas she and her husband are out working, though she has to get their home-schooling ready sooner than setting off. 

She notes that circumstances at the retailer have modified significantly since that manic Monday. The store now closes an hour earlier and measures are in place to ease crowding. A security guard organises people in well-spaced queues outdoor the premises, with priority entry given to the aged, disabled and healthcare employees.

The day after Macron’s deal with, plexiglass shields had been in place to protect Joanna and her colleagues. Gloves and hand gels had been moreover accessible, nevertheless it would take one different four days for the first offers of face masks to succeed in, amid a nationwide shortage that has moreover left docs dangerously uncovered.

“I’ve been making my masks from home because of these handed out by the agency are painful to placed on,” says Joanna. “They solely remaining two hours, nevertheless I keep a area with me in order that I can change them when wished.”

Colleagues who restock cupboards have moreover been handed defending gear, “nevertheless many don’t placed on them because of the gloves rapidly tear and the masks make it arduous to breathe,” she offers. “This week they’ve been moved to nighttime shifts, in order that they don’t seem to be in contact with shoppers.”

Cling-film boundaries

No matter the defending measures, Joanna is successfully aware of the menace of contagion she and her colleagues are uncovered to. 

“Stopping certain habits, resembling scratching my face or flicking aside unruly hair strands, hardly comes naturally,” she explains, noting that she now retains her hair tied in a bun at all situations. Rising such reflexes –recognized in France as “barrier gestures” – could be very arduous when the work is every bodily and mentally draining.

Respecting safe distances moreover features a rethink of the means cashiers’ stations are aligned. 

“One in each of my colleagues refused to work with staggered back-to-back stations, whereby shoppers stroll merely behind our backs,” Joanna says. “So we decreased the number of tills to make certain they’re spaced out and all face the comparable means.”

At completely different supermarkets, the place defending measures are dangerously lacking, cashiers have been pressured to erect cardboard boundaries or wrap their stations in cling film. Sometimes, mindless consumers peer over the makeshift boundaries to take care of staff, thereby defeating their very operate.


Altering shoppers’ habits in the age of coronavirus is a whole completely completely different drawback, Joanna notes.

“There are clearly two sorts of shoppers. These which can be conscious about the risks and retailer solely as quickly as for the full week and individuals who merely come to spend time at the retailer,” she says. “Some come every day, or quite a few situations a day, each time for a trifle. I had any individual buy merely two sticks of butter this morning.”

She offers: “Who am I to tell them to stay home? What would really be environment friendly is having police patrols who hand out fines to people who don’t buy meals for quite a few days.”

‘For months, docs had been teargassed in the streets. In the current day they’re heroes’

Since the start of the lockdown, Joanna and her colleagues have acquired fairly a couple of phrases of encouragement and thanks from shoppers, a heartwarming change for a profession that is considerably uncovered to indifference. 

“Sometimes, by the use of these exchanges, we get to know completely different people’s jobs and would possibly thank them too,” she says, citing docs, hauliers, avenue cleaners and “those who merely retailer for a relative or a neighbour who’s housebound”.

The Great U administration has thanked staff in a Fb submit that was later printed out and taped on the grocery retailer’s partitions, nevertheless has offered little else in phrases of gratitude and appreciation. 

Joanna, who has labored at the retailer for 15 years and earns the minimal wage for a 30-hour working week, is able to hear as to if or not she too will revenue from a €1,000 bonus launched by completely different grocery retailer chains, after the authorities impressed companies useful out one-off bonuses free of tax.

“In relation to the authorities, I don’t actually really feel like thanking them,” Joanna offers. “They knew what was coming and however they did not anticipate it. And, above all, they despatched contradictory messages, like ‘maintain at home, nevertheless don’t neglect to go working’.”

Her concepts go to the nicely being employees whose wrestle in opposition to the worsening pandemic is being saluted – “and rightly so” – all through France.

“Just some months in the previous they’d been teargassed for daring to rally in the streets,” she says, referring to present strikes and protests by docs at France’s cash-strapped hospitals. “Nonetheless instantly they’re our heroes.”

About the author

James Ashley

James Ashley is a 2006 graduate of De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. After working over a decade as an additional writer at USA News, he decided to start his own news publication. He mainly focuses on technology, sports articles and editorials. He likes to listen to music and play chess in his free time.

Email: [email protected]

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