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It's not up to retail staff to police mask-wearing, union says

Shoppers and retail staff will be required to wear face coverings in stores as the government slows down Ireland’s phased reopening.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 THE RESPONSIBILITY TO enforce the wearing of face coverings in stores and supermarkets should be with employers and the government rather than individual retail workers, trade union Mandate has said.

The union has outlined that government should apply deterrents to encourage the uptake of mask-wearing in stores, while conflict should be avoided between shoppers and retail staff.

Face coverings are to become mandatory in stores following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening which saw ministers decide to postpone Phase 4 of Ireland’s reopening from 20 July to August 10.

Face coverings will be compulsory for staff as well as shoppers, except for where staff and the public are separated by a screen or two metres of distance.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, general secretary John Douglas of Mandate, a trade union for retail workers in Ireland, said that it would not be feasible for retail staff to police the wearing of face coverings in stores.

“It should be the employer enforcing it – it’s their premises, they have right of entry in relation to that premises, and it should be done in a fashion which is non-confrontational.

“We hope there will be an element of deterrence, whatever that deterrent might be,” Douglas said.

The government hasn’t decided yet, we haven’t had a meeting with the government to discuss what the deterrent might be. Would it be a fine? Would it be custodial sentence?

“There is a suggestion that it may not be as draconian in the retail sector,” Douglas said, comparing the new guidelines to those in the public transport sector, where refusing to wear a face covering can lead to fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months in jail.

Taoiseach Michéal Martin indicated last night that “regulations with details on enforcement and penalties will be formulated” in relation to the wearing of face coverings in stores. 

Government sources have said the new rule could take “days or weeks” to be signed off on. 

Work environment must be “safe and free of any dangers”

Douglas recommended that customers should “come prepared to go shopping, and that would include not only bringing your shopping bags but bringing your own personal protection”, but added that “rather than having conflict at the door if someone arrives without a mask for whatever reason, it’s not a long stretch of the imagination to say that the retailer provides a mask for customers coming in who genuinely don’t have one”.

For staff, Douglas outlined that it is the responsibility of the employer to keep the work environment “safe and free of any dangers”, and that employers should provide personal protective equipment to staff at no cost.

Following the cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, the Taoiseach said that the government had agreed “face coverings should be worn by all customers in shops and shopping centres across the country”.

“Retail staff will also be required to wear a face covering unless there is a partition between them and members of the public, or where there is a distance of two metres between them and members of the public,” Martin said last night.

Pubs, hotel bars, nightclubs and casinos, which were previously due to reopen next Monday, will remain closed until 10 August.

Retail Excellence Ireland issued a response to the new guidelines on face coverings outlining that it would “take a sensible approach to this and be guided by Public Health”.

“We support any measures that would prevent a second wave and ensure our members and their customers are protected and can continue to trade in a safe environment.”

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The UK will impose fines up to £100 for shoppers without masks

In the UK, face coverings are to be mandatory in stores from 24 July, where health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that a store may refuse entry to shoppers who do not wear a mask, and that police may be called to handle any problems that arise.

The UK is set to impose fines of up to £100 for shoppers who do not wear a mask. 

Earlier this week, Mandate called for face coverings to be made compulsory in shops and supermarkets in Ireland to protect retail workers from the spread of Covid-19.

The union said that it was “imperative we act collectively to ascertain the exact high level of risk posed to shop workers in Ireland by the spread of coronavirus, as well as acting swiftly to ensure mandatory face covering measures are implemented and compliance ensured for the protection of shop workers health”.

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