Holland & Barrett has kept its shops open during the coronavirus crisis, but staff are campaigning for them to shut arguing their health is at risk.
The alternative health chain has 750 UK stores and counts as an essential retailer because its products cater for people with special dietary needs.
But staff have set up a petition, pleading with management to close stores over safety concerns.
The chain said staff and customer safety is of “paramount importance.”
The petition has attracted 2,600 signatures.
Workers have two complaints. They argue that what the chain sells is not essential, unlike supermarkets or a pharmacies.
But they also warn that most stores are too small to be safe, with no room for social-distancing.
‘Fear and stress’
A Holland & Barrett worker – who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job – told the BBC: “Holland & Barrett is putting our lives in danger with the pursuit of profit over life.
“The general atmosphere is one of fear and stress with a lot of our workers and colleagues quite frightened to speak their minds.”
They said: “We do not sell essentials and have people coming in to purchase flapjacks and sticks of liquorice, hardly an essential purchase.”
In many of the shops, they said: “It is almost practically impossible to maintain social distancing, as the aisles are very short width and when we have to deal with customer queries, they do not respect the boundaries.
Why are the shops open?
A Holland & Barrett spokesperson told the BBC it had been advised by the government that it is one of the retailers that are expected to remain open.
“This relates to the fact that 90% of what we sell is food, vitamins and food supplements, which many of our customers rely on to manage their dietary or underlying conditions,” they added.
Examples the company cited included 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.
Holland & Barrett said it has provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all stores and has also installed shielding screens at the counter.
It said social distancing is being enforced “with clear guidance in store”.
“We have limited the maximum number of customers allowed in the stores at any one time, dependent on store size, and tape has been installed marking out a two metre distance from the tills with clear signage throughout stores.”
Staff have pointed out that customers wanting to buy any of the products Holland & Barratt sell can do so through its online store.
Holland & Barratt said: “We are bolstering our online capacity as quickly as possible so customers can order from home where possible, and have set also up a new customer phone line for those customers who cannot access our website for home delivery.”