The big fangled monster coming for grocery workers was supposed to be automation.
It hasn’t taken long, relatively speaking, for us to collectively get used to self-checkouts. I remember taking a moral stance when they first arrived. I wouldn’t use them! I’d keep workers in a job! That didn’t last long. Now I keep my headphones in as I self-scan my daily bite. Luckily, a worker is still required when I inevitably misplace an item in the bagging area.
And yet, suddenly the threat of automation seems quaint. It’s still real, of course. Bigger issues don’t disappear smaller ones. But with the threat of COVID-19 looming so large, it tends to focus the mind.
Grocery workers didn’t sign up to be on the frontlines of a global war. They didn’t sign up to go to battle. They are those infamous ‘everyday New Zealanders’. They’re god damn heroes.
At just about every press conference the Prime Minister has held regarding COVID-19, she’s trotted out the same lines about supermarkets.
They’ll stay open at every alert level. Shop like normal. Do not panic buy. Allow supermarkets to restock their shelves.
For those of us watching every presser, it can feel a bit like overkill.
We get it already.
But it’s not overkill. Our supermarkets, and more importantly the people who work within them, are being overwhelmed. It’s important that the message gets through.
By descending on supermarkets en masse, we put an unnecessary burden on workers. We create strain. We create crowds.
We put our supermarket workers at risk.
We seem to have collectively recognised how essential our supermarket workers are, and for that I’m glad.
Once all of this is over I don’t ever want to hear another word about ‘low level jobs’. I don’t want to hear that ‘stacking shelves is unskilled labour’. I certainly never want to hear about how this type of labour is undeserving of a living wage.
I move that we celebrate our supermarket workers.
I move we uphold them by keeping our distance unless absolutely necessary.
By staying home when we can, and acting as courteously as possible when we can’t.
I’ve long held that the customer is actually NOT always right. Sometimes, the customer is a plain asshole. That sort of behaviour will likely be exacerbated by the stress of COVID-19. Shoplifting may rise. Aggressiveness almost certainly will. Let’s make up for the assholes by being doubly courteous. By giving supermarket workers space. By giving them a smile. By asking how they are.
Prime Minister Ardern put it best, as she often does: "We will get through this together, but only if we stick together so please be strong and be kind."
To all the supermarket workers out there (and everyone else working an essential role): thank you for your service. Take these air-kisses. Take these air-hugs.
New Zealanders love you.
And sorry for always stuffing up at the self-checkouts.
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