Tesco staff will be asked to clean toilets, shelves and floors of 2,000 of its stores after supermarket bosses axed contract cleaners.
Regular employees at Metro and Express supermarkets will have to take over the responsibilities of professional cleaners from August 24 – a move that will come as a surprise at a time when the global pandemic has increased the focus on hygiene.
It has also angered store staff, one of whom said they felt ‘stabbed in the back’ by the ‘cost-cutting’ measure after they had worked hard to keep stores stocked and enforce social distancing.
One Tesco employee told The Guardian: ‘Like it or not there is still a stigma around being a cleaner. It’s a big ask when you have been busting a gut on the checkout or filling shelves to have to do this as well.
‘If a store is not doing well then overtime gets cut and people end up being quite stretched. The danger is staff will not have enough time to clean properly.’
Tesco insists that budgets for cleaning products would be increased and staff given more time to finish the necessary cleaning. It also claimed the move would improve standards.
Usman Mohammed, Campaigns manager at Organise, an online workers’ rights platform, said: ‘Tesco staff are taking action to challenge the decision to get rid of cleaners during a pandemic.
‘Staff are already overloaded and exhausted, working hard to make huge profits for Tesco. A pandemic is not the time to be taking risks with hygiene.’
Tesco and other grocers have emerged as the big lockdown winners as supermarket spending hit a record high.
Industry figures from Kantar showed grocery sales rose 16.9pc in the 12 weeks to July 12 to £31.6bn.
The chain reported 15.1% growth, while Sainsbury’s saw sales rise by 13.5%, and Asda sales grew by 11%.
Further sales growth has been held back by the demands of social distancing, which has limited the number of customers allowed in a store at any one time.
Tesco recently scrapped one way systems on aisle floors as it eased social distancing restrictions, although it will still ask customers to stay two metres apart.
The grocer said it will monitor how many customers visit now measures have been relaxed but some stores are now allowing more people inside at one time.
Tesco said: ‘Currently we use third-party suppliers for cleaning. Following a successful trial, we have found that giving our stores more ownership and control over their cleaning results in better and more consistent standards.
‘We will now roll this out to all our Express stores and convenience Metro stores.’