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Industry responds to H&B staff petition calling for retail chain to close

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Holland & Barrett has defended its position to stay open after it was revealed a petition signed by employees was calling for the business to close its stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, it emerged that H&B employees had raised concern that they were being put at risk by still working in stores that had remained open. The petition called for management to close stores over safety concerns, with the petition attracting 2,600 signatures at the time of writing. The staff argue that what the chain sells is not essential, unlike supermarkets or pharmacies, and that stores are too small to be safe, with no room for social-distancing.

However, the move has attracted a response from Holland & Barrett, as well as the National Association of Health Stores (NAHS) after health stores were confirmed to fall under the ‘essential’ category of stores that could stay open.

A spokesperson for Holland & Barrett commented: “In these unprecedented times the safety of our teams and customers is of paramount importance. As a health, wellness and speciality food retailer, we have been advised by the Government that we fall within the list of retailers that are expected to remain open. This relates to the fact that 90 per cent of what we sell is food, vitamins and food supplements, which many of our customers rely on to manage their dietary or underlying conditions. For example: pregnant women in need of folic acid supplementation; coeliacs; those with milk and egg allergies; those outlined by the Government as ‘at-risk’ groups in need of vitamin D supplementation; and those caring for customers with compromised immune systems, in need of additional support at this time.

“We are working around the clock to ensure our teams are as safe as possible whilst staying open to meet the needs of our customers. We have provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all of our store colleagues and have also installed shielding screens at the counter and are following all other safety advice. We have asked all colleagues who have any concerns about these safety measures or who need more gloves, masks or sanitiser provided to contact to either contact their manager or our dedicated colleague helpline.

“In addition to this, social distancing is also being enforced with clear guidance in store. We have limited the maximum number of customers allowed in the stores at any one time, dependant on store size, and tape has been installed marking out a two-metre distance from the tills with clear signage throughout stores. The contactless payment limit has also been increased to £45 in the UK (50 Euros in ROI) from April 1 and we are encouraging all customers to scan and bag their own items where possible, with guidance from store staff. We have also closed stores temporarily where we can serve local communities from fewer locations.”

The statement added that any colleague self-isolating under Government guidelines because of symptoms, or symptoms in someone they live with, will receive full pay for the recommended self-isolation period and has written to those colleagues who have identified themselves as ‘most at risk’ to offer options for working from home.

“For any colleagues showing no symptoms, and who haven’t identified themselves as falling into the ‘most at risk’ category, but who doesn’t feel comfortable coming into work despite these safety measures, we will continue to employ these colleagues, and offer the options of statutory sick pay, TOIL, or holiday pay,” it added.

The NAHS issued a statement, with Chair, Gary Trickett, commenting: “Categorised by the Government as an essential food service, independent health food stores are proud to be on the frontline in this crisis, helping their communities get through this challenging time by ensuring they have access to the specialist dietary foods, food supplements and advice they rely on to help manage their health. This specialist advice and product range are not available from supermarkets, pharmacies or online.”

The statement added that while H&B are not members of the NAHS, the association represents many of the 850-plus independently owned health food stores across the UK.

“Meanwhile, the NAHS can assure you that independent health food stores are committed to ensuring that both customers and staff are protected in line with strict Government guidelines and that they take their responsibilities regarding hygiene and duty of care very seriously. Independent health food stores across the country remain open and many are providing additional community support services, including local home deliveries and call and collect. The public can be reassured that independent health food stores are proactively supporting their physical and mental wellbeing at this time,” Trickett added.

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