It’s no secret retail staff, alongside all of our other key workers, have really been through it this year.

Retailers up and down the country have faced ever-changing safety protocols as the government continues its efforts to control the virus. And shopworkers have been the ones managing these measures on the shopfloor – meaning they’ve also borne the brunt of customer frustration at the rules.

A recent study from union Usdaw found over three-quarters (76%) of shop workers say abuse from shoppers has been “worse than normal” through the pandemic, while The Co-op has reported a 39% increase in incidents of abuse, violence or antisocial behaviour directed against its staff.

And there are fears aggression against staff will worsen in the run-up to Christmas, when stores will be busier and social distancing even harder to enforce.

So it’s good to see some retailers choosing to give their hardworking staff a well-deserved festive break.

Asda announced today (10 December) all 631 of its stores will close this Boxing Day to give employees time to spend with their loved ones while still receiving their pay for the day. And in further recognition of their efforts, they’ll recieve a 100% bonus come next February to boot.

Roger Burnley, president and CEO of Asda said its team had done “an incredible job” as key workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, “continuing to serve our customers and communities while juggling so many other commitments”.

It follows a similar move from M&S. After initially saying it would open around 200 stores on Boxing Day, the retailer has since backtracked and is now closing stores and its customer contact centre and distribution centre on 26 December to give employees the opportunity to spend time with loved ones over Christmas. 

Aldi, Booths, B&M, The Entertainer, Pets At Home and Poundland have also announced they are closing on 26 December as a thank you to their staff, while Midcounties Co-op plans to stop trading across all its food, childcare, travel and funeralcare stores at 5pm on Christmas Eve to give its staff an extended break. 

When are the UK’s supermarkets open this Christmas?

Now Asda has made the move, pressure is mounting on the rest of the big four to follow suit. The union Unite has already accused Sainsbury’s of “acting like Scrooge” by insisting staff come in on Boxing Day, albeit with reduced 10am to 5pm opening hours.

Tesco and Morrisons also confirmed this week they would be opening stores with reduced hours.

You can’t blame the major mults for wanting to keep their doors open as much as possible at such a crucial time of the year. And they’ve just agreed to pay back almost £2bn in business rates relief despite huge Covid-related bills arising from the closure of cafés and counters, extra staff costs and tier restrictions.

Still, the Christmas season is one of the most high-pressure times to work in retail, and having already stepped up to feed the nation throughout the pandemic, there is no doubt staff deserve a break. A bouyant retail sector might be vital to the economy, but the mental health of shopworkers shouldn’t be disregarded.

Closing on Boxing Day might be an unusual move for Britain’s supermarkets, but an extraordinary year calls for some extraordinary measures.