Pick and drive: the Tesco workers keeping Ireland well-stocked
Photography by Ian Boyle.
“Now, more than ever, every little helps.”
Back when Leo Varadkar regularly updating us on when we were allowed leave our houses was a novelty, the first address to the Irish people about Covid-19 stopped us all in our tracks. 10 weeks ago, our Taoiseach stood in Washington on live national television and said the words “we must face the tragic reality that some people will die.”
Most of us left work that evening knowing we wouldn’t be back for a while, some of us not ever again. We stopped in the shops to get essentials, and were greeted with queues, empty shelves and full trolleys. It was our first glimpse at the strange weeks and months that have and will follow.
Throughout this time, regular and deserved praise has been heaped on our frontline workers. Those at the coalface, providing for us and protecting us from the virus. For most of us, a trip to the shops has been the only activity we’ve undertaken in a day, our only brief moments of human contact outside of our households. That’s been even more the case for those cocooning, when shopping deliveries have provided a glimpse of normality in a strange time.
Stuart Byrne, who has worked for Tesco since 2014 sums it up perfectly; “Right now, we’re providing an important service for those who can’t get out and about to do their own shopping.” His colleague, Andrew Harte, does the same; “at the minute it’s a lifeline for people cocooning.”
Stuart Byrne, Driver
Mark Law, from Dublin’s north inner city, has worked for Tesco since 2006. He explains that older and more vulnerable customers can avail of contactless deliveries; “I make contact with the customer via the onboard device as I get near the house to let the customer know the delivery will arrive shortly. We’re providing protective bags to pack goods into to leave on the doorstep.”
He says that the communication is important, and one part of the job he really enjoys; “The over 65s really appreciate us delivering to them during the pandemic, we build up a great rapport and it’s really lovely.”
Mark Law, Driver
In these strange Covid times, when basic human interactions are so limited, often these delivery drivers see behind the curtain into people’s new daily routines. But also the new way in which we must live, and grieve. Andrew Harte recalls one customer asking for assistance with her shopping, as she was watching her Granddad’s funeral from her own home. “That really stuck with me”, Andrew says.
Andrew Harte, Driver
What are they all looking forward to when things go back to ‘normal’? Well, Andrew can’t wait to join his mates for a pint in the pub. Stuart says he just can’t wait for this strange time to come to an end, and Mark says he’s not sure if what we knew as normal will return, but “hopefully we’ll all continue to help each other out, especially those most vulnerable in our communities.”
A lesson we can all take from the events of recent months.
But how do these home deliveries happen? The loaves of bread and cartons of milk don’t fall off the shelves into perfectly packed boxes to land on people’s doorsteps. A team of Tesco ‘pickers’ work around the clock to ensure orders are filled quickly and accurately to help keep the operation ticking over.
Most of the in-store picking teams picks on average 180 individual items per hour; and work a 6-hour shift, so on average a picker will take roughly 1,000 items off the shelves every week.
For some, it’s an early start. Glen Lawlor from Ballymun has worked for Tesco since 2011, and says his working day starts at 4am at the moment, to allow for earlier picking and to avoid busy store times.
Glen Lawlor, Picker
Chloe Thompson from Coolock says that they’re obviously very busy at the moment, due to the number of customers they’re trying to help, and there’s one aspect of her job in particular that’s missing currently; “I’m looking forward to seeing the older customers back in store, we miss them not being in. They love the chat, and all know most of us"
Chloe Thompson, Picker
The phrase “unprecedented times” is used to such an extent at the moment that you could forget unprecedented goes before other words as well. There has been that exact type of demand placed on particular products, particularly at the beginning of the outbreak here.
Michaela Brady says one product in particular stood out as Ireland began to shut down; “At the beginning the demands for toilet roll was crazy, but now with stock measures in place, people aren’t buying more than they need, stock levels are normal again.”
Michaela Brady, Picker
Glen, too, has noticed a change in people’s buying habits, with certain products becoming increasingly desirable in recent weeks; “hair dye false nails , books, cookery books... Home Baking – people are gone baking mad. Flour, chocolate chips, parchment and the decorations for cupcakes are very popular.”
Most of us never see these staff, or what they have contributed to Ireland’s Covid-19 response. They have played and will continue to play a vital role in our safety and wellbeing in the coming weeks and months. As well as keeping our bellies full and our home bakeries well-stocked.