Supermarkets urged to send grocery baggers home, away from health risks

Volunteer program criticized for putting elderly at risk for coronavirus

A woman in Tijuana protects her face with a mask in a supermarket crowd. Photo: Omar Martínez via Getty Images
A woman in Tijuana protects her face with a mask in a supermarket crowd. Photo: Omar Martínez via Getty Images

Soriana shoppers will bag their own groceries starting today, and other grocery chains in Mexico are under pressure to also send home tens of thousands of elderly checkouts baggers at risk of coronavirus.

Some 35,000 workers, most between 60 and 74 years old, work for tips packing groceries at Walmart and other chain stores through a government-backed volunteer program.

A petition on Change.org, demanding the senior workers in Mexico be allowed home with compensation, had gathered close to 69,000 signatures by Thursday.

People 65 and older account for eight out of every 10 deaths from coronavirus in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In China, where the virus first took hold, about 80% of deaths have been among people 60 and older, said the CDC citing Chinese data.

Ofelia Camarillo, 66, said she needs the money and plans to keep packing bags at a Superama, one of the chains owned by Walmart.

“I know it’s a risk, but if I’m going to stay at home, what would I do?” the Mexico City woman told the Reuters news agency, adding that the 450 pesos ($18) she can take home a day was her only income.

Walmart de Mexico said its decision to keep the bag packers in its stores was in line with recommendations from the government’s National Institute for Elderly People (INAPAM), which oversees the program.

“The activities of the elderly adults as baggers in our stores is voluntary; that’s to say, they’re not our employees,” a spokeswoman said.

Walmart also recommended surgical masks, said Guillermo Valdez, 65, who packs groceries at a Superama in upscale Polanco, but said none were available early this week.

Guillermo Valdez, 65, who bags groceries and helps collect shopping carts at a Superama in upscale Polanco, said he had few worries despite a lack of surgical masks recommended by his employer.

“I’m not scared of death. When it comes, it comes,” he said.

A Soriana spokeswoman said that beginning on Friday, the company would no longer use the elderly volunteers in consideration of their health, and instead ask shoppers to pack their own bags and leave donations for the volunteers, which the company would then match.

In line with the government’s reluctance to issue pre-emptive measures to contain coronavirus that might damage the economy, INAPAM’s director of state programs Ricardo Gallardo said workers should not be pulled from stores because they depend on tips as income.

INAPAM would not offer compensation if workers opted to stay home, he said.

Source: Reuters

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