Last Sunday I was working as usual at my checkout when my colleague at the till in front turned back to me.

“Claire, my head really hurts” she said, her neck twisted round so far that at first I thought she had some kind of inner ear disorder.  I reached over the till and caught her as she slumped, praying that the phone on my till would work and somebody actually answer it.   Fortunately I was able to get someone to come and carry her away for a first aiders attention and ultimately to hospital.

But I have to ask why this happened in the first place.  This girl is five months pregnant.  She had had some time off sick but returned to work anyway.  Statutory sick pay of £66.00 a week is far below minimum wage and doesn’t go far when you’ve a baby on the way.  Now I don’t know the full facts of her case but it bothered me enough that on Monday morning I rang the GMB.  They told me that if the Store could not offer her a safe working environment then the Store should suspend her on medical grounds.  No doubt this has not been explained or offered to her, as it involves paying her her full wages, not recording it as sick absence and not cutting into her paid maternity leave. This is all supposed to be determined through a written risk assessment. I’m told that she had just received hers. Five months into her pregnancy.

On Monday afternoon I went to work as usual.  Thats when I noticed that the fire doors at the front of the store were locked.  That is to say that the roll down metal grilles were firmly pulled down and sealed shut.  A colleague told me that the one by the bakery at the back was also locked.  So I phoned the duty manager to make sure that management were aware.  “Yes we do know and it is being dealt with” I was informed.  Well when I left the store two hours later they were still locked.  Once I reached home a swift call to the local fire brigade resolved the issue.  They were most obliging about sending somebody over (I understand it was a nice shiny red fire engine) to help the Store open its fire doors.  Apparently they are electrically operated and nobody could find the right button.  Now if the doors are locked in the evening one surmises that they are locked overnight and opened in the morning.  So they must have been locked all day, putting staff and customers alike at risk.   Colleagues who work there overnight presumably work there with the fire doors locked. 

With these kinds of Spanish practices I felt the need for a union.  Naturally we have no such luxury.  Not even a proper personnel officer in a store with 4oo employees – the last one was a glorified pay roll clerk and I am not sure that she has yet been replaced. Colleague opinion is that union membership is not allowed and the first to try to set up local representation will get the sack.  Sounds just like the kind of challenge I relish.  A real opportunity to improve things.