Tescos are the biggest retailers in the UK, turning billions of profits a year. £1 in every £8 spent in shops in the UK is spent in Tescos. But anyone who thinks that all this money and profit means Tescos can afford to be reasonable to their workers is in cloud cuckoo land. It is quite the opposite - massive individual wealth like this only happens when massive exploitation is their agenda.
After a 13 year battle an unemployed ex-employee of Tesco is likely to lose her house and find herself being made homeless after she lost her claim for £ 100,000 for injuries sustained during the period when she worked for the company. Tesco are poised to take court action against Mima Rac, aged 58, from Falkirk to claim expenses in the region of £23.000 against her.
Mrs Rae was a part time checkout operator at the Falkirk store from 1986 until she was sacked in November 1992. She regularly worked on the express checkout - one of the busiest. Its proximity close to the main doors meant, in Mrs Rae's words, "we often sat with our feet encased in brown paper bags to try to keep warm".
She experienced numerous problems with upper back, neck, shoulder and arm pain. In 1990, she begun to experience pain radiating from the middle finger of her right hand. After a new checkout system was installed, there were numerous problems as it either ran slowly, over-ran, didn't stop at all, or jammed altogether. She took time off from work after suffering back strain. This should have been recorded in the in-store accident book by the staff manageress, but it wasn't. According to others who worked during the time the reporting of accidents was actively discouraged by store managers. An in-store maintenance engineer at the Falkirk store has confirmed that he was often called to repair the checkouts.
In 1991, Mima suffered strained ligaments and muscle spasms in her lower back and across her shoulders. She paid privately for osteopathic treatment. Her request to change her busiest and longest shift and for an additional five minutes on her unpaid tea break were refused.
In December 1991, aware that her repeated absences were putting her employment in jeopardy, she approached Mr W Keeley, her USDAW representative who advised her to attempt to try to force Tesco's hand by getting the cause of the accident in 1990 retrospectively recorded in the store's accident book.
She was offered a job in Tesco's garage which she turned down, as it would have required prolonged periods of sitting down. She remained on sick leave to help her back recover until, in November 1992, Tesco sacked her. As this was illegal she followed Tesco's grievance procedures and, in February 1993, was told that each time a vacancy arose in the store her suitability or otherwise for the position would be discussed with her.
She was again offered a job in Tesco's garage but with shifts that ended at midnight, when public transport had ceased. When, in June 1993, she inquired about forthcoming job vacancies, she was told that the only job on offer was five evenings a week collecting damaged stock. Meanwhile. other Tesco employees in Falkirk began to report similar injuries, and Mima informed USDAW hoping they would discreetly contact the other workers. Instead, on 19th July 1993, the union wrote to say they were no longer prepared to pursue her case. She got other legal representation and on 6 September 1993, one day before the three year time limit, a writ was delivered to Tesco but the case remained on ice for the next four ears. In 1997, Tesco offered to settle for £2.500 plus expenses.
Mrs Rae was not the only checkout operator pursuing an RSI claim. In June 1998, Doug Russell, Health and Safety Officer for USDAW, claimed to know of more than 650 cases involving USDAW members, with 50 checkout workers obtaining settlements for injuries. This is not surprising, considering that concerns for the welfare of checkout operators first surfaced in the mid 1990's, when it was suggested that the operation of some checkouts was associated with high levels of musculoskeletal disorders principally affecting the lower back, upper arm-neck-soulder region and in the hand/wrist area.
USDAW are currently pursuing "a few hundred" cases of RSI complaints. He said that since the 1980s "new technology has brought about big improvements" for checkout operators with "companies such as Tesco now involving operators in designing the structure and lay-out".
When the case finally reached tribunal it found against Mrs Rae. Her physical and mental health has been compromised over the past 13 years, and she now says she is unemployable. She is also broke and the financial drain has ruined a once happy marriage.