First the elderly and medical workers, then the teachers; as vaccinations proceed swiftly, the question arises – who will be deemed the next most urgent group to receive the coronavirus vaccine? Reuven Perry, chairman of the trade division of the Histadrut, asserts that supermarket workers and cashiers must be the next in line due to their high exposure.
“Thousands of these workers have gone into long quarantines, have become infected and also infected family members, which has harmed their health," said Perry. "These are people who are at the frontline and meet hundreds of people a day. They should have been vaccinated immediately after we vaccinated the medical workers."
About two weeks ago, Perry wrote a letter to the chairmen of the Ministries of Health, Welfare and the Economy and to the coronavirus czar, demanding that the cashiers and supermarket employees be prioritized in the vaccination drive.
These workers are among the few in the economy who continue to meet the public even during the current lockdown. In his letter, Perry clarified that if his request is not answered, the Histadrut will consider next steps, including declaring a labor dispute in the industry.
"I don’t understand why there should be preferential treatment for a teacher who meets 30 students in small groups every day, rather than a cashier who meets about 350 customers every day," said A., a cashier at a supermarket in the center of the country, who asked to remain anonymous. "I really value teachers, but if we are prioritizing employees at risk, then our exposure is enormous: thousands of customers pass through the supermarket branches every day.”
About 70,000 workers are employed by the major supermarket chains.
“It is clear that in a job where wages are close to the minimum, we are talking mainly about downtrodden populations,” said Perry. “There is an over-representation of Arabs, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and of course there is also a clear female majority in the industry. There are also many workers that are single mothers."
Most cashiers, he adds, are employed in part-time jobs and sometimes earn only about NIS 4,000 a month.
"These are the weakest workers that have, of course, been left the most exposed. It is simply a scandal that no one is talking about, as if they are invisible,” Perry continued. “That is why we in the Histadrut are refusing to remain silent and are demanding that they be taken care of."