LUU Co-op Staff Expose Issues At Work

Employees at Union supermarket reveal ban on drinking water and other issues relating to work. “There’s a lack of honesty and communication in general”, one employee tells us

It has recently come to light that staff at the University Union Co-op shop have been told they are not allowed to drink water during shifts.  

One employee said that the staff have been told they are not allowed to drink during shift hours and that their bottles had to be put away- a message that was passed to them from management. 

As a result of this, this particular employee didn’t have a drink for two hours during one shift last week. 

They have been told that they can keep drinks in the stockroom, but not out on the shop floor where they are working. Because of this, they are having to find other members of staff to cover them whilst they go to get a drink of water.     

It has been noted that though staff can keep water in the stockroom, and drink it in there, during a busy shift it is often unlikely that employees will get a chance to go and have a quick drink whilst working. 

These shifts can be anywhere between 3 and 6 hours without a break, and therefore without easy access to water.    

Additionally, those employees that are based in either of the other two retail outlets – Gear and the Union Shop – are further away from the stockroom of the Co-op, and therefore it is even harder for them to access their drinks during a shift. 

One employee said that not being able to have a water bottle with you during working hours is “incredibly problematic for being in the Union or Gear shop as you can’t leave the floor to go and get water”.  

A post on the Leedsfess Facebook page that first brought the water issue to attention

Frustration is also felt over the lack of communication between workers and employers, not just over not being able to drink water, but also because most of the staff are contracted 12 hours a week, and this is the minimum they are supposed to work, yet they don’t always have the opportunity to work these hours. 

Should a situation arise where a staff member hasn’t been given their contracted hours, and therefore they don’t work the 12 they are meant to within one week, they should be paid for 12 hours regardless. 

One worker said that not everyone will get the hours they are supposed to work each week, but others do, saying that “there is no consistency in how things are run, and so that’s really why there are so many problems”. 

Image Credit: Ed Barnes

They have spoken too about rotas and how they are inconsistently organised so it is difficult to plan your life around. 

In addition to this, they say they have “almost always have pay issues every week, such as being underpaid quite significantly and having to chase the money.” 

Though this doesn’t always happen, workers have also been told that they are not to have their phones on them during a shift, and whilst this is common in many places of work, as are occasional errors of pay, it is adding to the frustration felt by workers over not being able to drink water during busy shifts when they feel they need to. 

Another worker said that staff were told they could not have their phones on them during a shift without permission, though the reason given was not that it was unprofessional, or employers would rather their staff didn’t go on their phones during a shift, but that “phones are made of glass which could break and injure you”. This is a further example of poor and dishonest communication between management and employees.     

In response to these issues, a Leeds University Union spokesperson said in a statement: 

In all our outlets, including the LUU-run Co-op, and in our bars and venues, we aim to provide a level of customer service and professionalism that mirrors the experience students and all visitors to LUU expect on the high street and beyond. 

As in any major retail store, there are a number of activities such as eating, drinking, or using a mobile phone which are not permitted whilst serving customers and we encourage staff to make use of their planned breaks, or if they need to, take an unplanned break to do these.

To enable students to create work opportunities that fit around their studies, we use a digital rota system to allow students to make themselves available and receive shifts. To ensure students receive the level of work that suits, they need to make themselves available for work and if any of our staff feel they are working too little or too much, we actively encourage them to speak to their manager in the first instance, or the People team if required. 

Similarly, whilst our investment in digital platforms is designed to minimise any issues with payment, we will quickly resolve any pay-related issues flagged to the Finance team, and make a payment outside our weekly pay run if necessary.

We are proud that we pay over £2,000,000 annually to students for working in LUU and via our Joblink recruitment service, helping them support their time at Leeds and providing valuable work experience skills for the future.

Image Credit: Ed Barnes

Since the publishing of this article in print, another employee has come forward telling The Gryphon that they were told this after concerns were raised over breaks to drink water by management:

“If you have time to go and get a drink of water, you don’t have enough jobs to do”

One employee said that staff were firstly told no drinking water on shift at all, but that once they explained that this was against the law, it was changed to allow them to drink water in the stockroom but not on the shop floor. 

According to this person, the reasoning behind this rule is that “you wouldn’t see it in another shop”. 

Ultimately not being able to drink water on shift has been cited by employees to cause problems such as decreased staff motivation and productivity, but it also becomes a health issue if one becomes dehydrated. 

Under UK law, drinking water at work should be “readily accessible at suitable places” and “an adequate supply of wholesome drinking water shall be provided for all persons at work in the workplace”. This suggests that Workplace Regulations 1992 appears to recognize the fundamental importance of access to drinking water in the workplace.  

Image Credit: Ed Barnes