Last night, the Government announced that, from Friday 24th July, face coverings will become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
Those who fail to comply with the new rules will face a fine of up to £100.
As with the current guidance relating to face coverings on public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities or conditions will be exempt.
The change will bring England into line with Scotland and other European countries including Spain, Italy and Germany.
Retail trade union Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) has welcomed the new guidance, but has warned that it can only be effective alongside existing social distancing and hygiene procedures. The union, which is the fifth biggest in the UK with over 400,000 members, is calling on the Government to publish detailed guidance and safety procedures that are agreed with the union and retail employers.
Usdaw maintains that employers should continue to adhere to safety measures that are already in place, such as social distancing, screens at tills to separate staff and customers, and limits on the number of customers allowed into a shop at any one time.
The union has said that staff members must be afforded regular breaks where they can take their mask off, and have the opportunity to replace it. Staff should also not be required to wear a face covering if they are behind a screen at a till.
The union welcomes the Government’s indication that retail staff will not be responsible for enforcing the mandatory wearing of face coverings. With incidents of abuse against retail staff on the rise, this added pressure could present a serious risk to staff safety.
However, Usdaw is urging the Government to provide further clarity with regard to the ‘Think 25’ policy, as a face covering may make it more difficult for staff to assess whether a customer is over the age of 25 when buying age-restricted items.
The union is also calling for a public information campaign on the correct use of face coverings, and who is exempt from them.
Grahame Morris MP said, “Whilst I welcome the announcement that face coverings are to become mandatory in shops and supermarkets next week, I share Usdaw’s concerns and echo their call for further guidance from Government. The safety of retail staff must be ensured. To that end it is vital that employers are enforcing all safety measures, and that detailed clarity is provided about potential difficulties that may arise such as the ‘Think 25’ policy.”