Working on the frontline: The supermarket operator

2:57 pm on 6 April 2020

By Kayla Simpson*

Usually being a 16-year-old girl would mean three things; school, friends and finding a job.

Now, imagine getting a job working at a supermarket and a few months later getting told you have to work during a global pandemic. You would be pretty scared, right? Well, that was how I felt when I was told I would be an essential worker during the crisis of Covid-19.

Kayla Simpson

Kayla Simpson Photo: Supplied

Now I am actually one of the slightly luckier ones. You may ask how I can be lucky by placing myself in a situation that has a high chance of human contact but, for starters, I still have a job.

Being 16 and getting a job that has great pay is very rare, so being able to still have that job is a win. But that doesn't mean I don't go to work scared.

Before my first shift during the lockdown, I was terrified. What if someone had the virus and infected me? What if someone had already given me the virus and I was just a carrier? All these 'what ifs' were just filling my brain with more and more fear. I was shaking and I really didn't want to go.

When I got to work and saw all the precautions the store had put in to keep staff and customers safe, I felt a little better. There were walls in between each checkout to make sure the customers weren't getting too close, there was a plastic barrier between the operator and the customer, there were lines the customers had to stand behind at all times to enforce the 2m rule, and all staff had to wear gloves. If we didn't feel safe they also had aprons and masks available. That was a relief. The store was also only letting a few people in at a time to make sure it wasn't overcrowded.

It was still really busy though, at times there were queues all the way along the freezers. Some nights, as the store closed at 10pm, we would still have lines weaving through the store.

Only a few people had cash in their tills because if all the cashiers were getting cash from the cash machine, then anyone who was getting cash back might be taking a contaminated note or coin from another person. Everyone wanted to slow down this virus and be as safe as possible, And so that was what we worked to do.

All the customers I served were very grateful for the work I was doing and it was reassuring to know all these people were supporting me. There were times when I overheard a customer getting worked up at an operator, but the supervisors came and handled the job and calmed down the customers.

Kayla Simpson

Kayla Simpson Photo: Supplied

It is very scary seeing someone wearing a mask and screaming at you. It's also weird seeing everyone walking around wearing gloves and masks, but this can become quite funny as the improvisations people come up with for masks are great. People walking around with bandanas and full gas masks to people walking around just holding tissues to their faces the whole time. But the ones that scare me the most are the ones who walk around with no gloves or masks or any form of protection. They are the ones that make me become anxious and more on edge.

By the second shift I was alright with everything that was happening and I knew I would be safe. While being an essential worker is pretty tough, if you take the right precautions and stay safe, then you'll be fine. I only have two shifts per week so that brings my fear down a little. I'm always very cautious to follow the rules at work, not just for myself but for the other staff and customers as well.

We have limits on some items in the store that lots of people have been buying lately like tissue paper, hand sanitizer, gloves and other sanitary items.

After work I take off my shoes and socks at the front door before spraying them with cleaning mix and drying them before getting out of my uniform and immediately putting it into the wash.

Everyone's a little more stressed during this lockdown so we need to be grateful that we still have people working in the frontline to help you survive this terrible time. I'm really grateful for everyone doing their part and making sure everyone stays safe, not just at our store but at every essential store in the country. Thank you.

*Kayla Simpson is a 16-year-old essential supermarket worker working who lives in Hibiscus Coast, north Auckland.

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