Staff at an SE16 chain say they are working in fear of the coronavirus, while thousands have signed a petition for the outlets to close nationally.
Workers at The Range in Surrey Quays say they don’t feel they have adequate protection from the virus, and customers are purchasing non-essential items like mirrors and cushions.
Staff claim that all stores – owned by billionaire Chris Dawson – brought in a fridge and freezer to sell Iceland goods last week, so it could sell more food.
In a national statement The Range’s CEO said it was staying open because it supplied essential goods like toilet roll and pet food.
“I’m very worried for me and everyone there,” said one employee who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisal from their bosses.
“Customers don’t respect the right distance, the company didn’t give masks or stuff to protect us.
“A week ago all the stores got one fridge and one freezer to sell groceries from Iceland. This has disgusted a lot of customers and colleagues from all over England.”
The employee added that they were particularly scared that their colleagues were at risk, as some of the staff were over sixty-years-old.
“People go there to buy cushions, candles, mirrors,” they said. “So not essential stuff.”
“Despite orders for all of us to wash our hands regularly, toilets at the Surrey Quays premises are broken”, claimed another employee.
“The staff have to walk into the shop centre to use the toilet and wash their hands,” they said. “The staff ones have been out of order for the last two years and never been repaired.”
A petition has been sparked by The Range’s decision to stay open amid the pandemic, with nearly 12,000 signatures at the time of writing.
It urges The Range to shut its shops and use the government’s jobs retention scheme.
The Range “recently installed refrigerators in the store so it can be classed as a ‘mini mart’ and not have to close,” claims the petition. “We have our actual supermarkets to supply us with food,” it adds.
“We do not need The Range to stay open for the likes of a couple of packets of ham.”
The Range’s CEO, Alex Simpkin said it had permission from Trading Standards to remain open during the lockdown.
“Following on from Monday evening’s announcement that all non-essential stores are to close, we’ve had confirmation from Trading Standards that we should remain open during this period of uncertainty for the communities that we serve,” he said.
“We are a value retailer and understand that a lot of our customers rely on us to provide essential items like food and groceries, pet food and veterinary items, non-prescription items, toilet rolls, cleaning products and all at the value prices that they need right now.”
The chain’s closest competitors, such as B&M and Wilko’s also remain open for similar reasons.
The News phoned the Surrey Quays branch for further comment, but was told: “The store manager won’t comment to reporters. All comments have to go through head office.”