Self-service checkouts in supermarkets do not lead to less work for the sales staff – on the contrary. They have to take on more security-related tasks and often have to deal with aggressive customers, according to a trade union commissioned study.
Digitalisation in the retail trade is increasingly popular in Switzerland: 60% of consumers use digital devices. Not everyone is a winner, however. Employees, especially women, are increasingly exposed to “aggressive and inappropriate customer behaviour” because of new technologies such as self-scanning or self-checkout, said Switzerland’s largest trade union Unia on Thursday.
“Digitalisation needs to be designed socially – also in the retail trade,” said Unia president Vania Alleva, presenting a study commissioned by Unia and carried out by the University of Bern on the impact of digitalisation on the retail trade.
The union is therefore demanding better working conditions and living wages. Women earn “on average and sometimes massively less than their male counterparts”, according to the study, adding that industry giants Migros and Coop should lead by example.
The consequences of self-scanning and self-checkout systems are “serious” for the employees, it said.
Women – who made up around two-thirds of retail trade employees in 2015 – have to spend more time monitoring customers and dealing with aggressive ones.
Staff, originally employed as salespeople, have not been given sufficient training in these areas, according to Unia. Such training is urgently required, it added, given that at peak times up to 50% of sales are generated at self-scanning check-outs.
In addition, being on one’s feet for a long time can take its toll physically. Therefore, instead of eight-hour shifts, there should be at most three-hour shifts, Unia says.
A total of 4,000 self-scanning check-outs are in use at Coop and Migros across Switzerland. These generate 20-40% of sales. At the same time, according to the study, companies save on staff costs because the number of employees has been falling slowly but steadily since the 1990s. It said 240,000 people are employed full-time in the retail industry, with 323,000 working part-time.