IGN understands that CeX, one of the UK’s largest used game retailers, is to close its corporate stores for at least 14 days amid the spread of COVID-19, as employee concerns rose that not enough was being done to prevent virus transfer between staff and customers.
CeX is a second hand-only retailer, dealing in game software and hardware, as well as tech and entertainment products. At time of writing, the majority of its 300+ UK outlets remain open for business, but several employees have now told me that the chain will close as of tonight (although it’s unclear if this will apply to franchises). Those sources tell me that employees due to work during that time should receive pay commensurate with their scheduled hours, or pay according to average recent wages for those on 0-hour contracts.
This follows just a day after US retailer GameStop closed stores across the US, following public pressure around its previous decision to stay open.
It’s followed a period of increasingly public discontent from CeX staff on social media. Today, I’ve spoken to multiple current employees of the chain from across the UK (all of whom wished to remain anonymous, for fear of retaliation from management). Those discussions have touched on cramped workspaces that don’t allow for the recommended level of distancing between colleagues and staff, a lack of information about why stores aren’t closing and, according to two sources, threats from management regarding publicly speaking out about working conditions.
GameStop in the News Timeline
Solely dealing in second-hand goods already means that staff and customers are potentially at increased risk of transmitting the virus – while CeX has a policy of cleaning items sold to it or traded in, more than one employee told me the sheer level of stock coming in can make cleaning every item next to impossible while still keeping the front-facing shop operational. Unlike many other chains, CeX has not moved to implement contactless-only payments, meaning staff have continued to have to use card machines and handle cash. US retailer GameStop, by comparison, has recently moved to allow only curbside pick-up at stores.
One staff member sums up the problem with trying to contain the problem, saying employees “don’t [currently] demo items to customers and try and stay off store floor but when it comes to 2nd hand goods, constant use of card machine and cash it’s like shooting the sun with a water pistol.”
CeX’s Customer Support Twitter account says that “All CeX employees are fully briefed on the latest health and safety procedures in order to ensure that the highest possible hygiene standards are maintained”. However, more than one employee has told me that they’ve received no official briefing, at best being told to check NHS guidelines on how to avoid virus transmission.
One employee described staff as feeling “abandoned” by those who run the company: “They feel like they’re being led to slaughter, management touting what head office is preaching while said head office staff work from home in safety. That CeX didn’t close isn’t a shock, but that they’re blatantly showing negligence and contempt to staff at ground level should be criminal in these times.”
One staff member explained that immuno-compromised employees were choosing to continue to work, because statutory sick pay – while offered to those who want to self-isolate – is not enough to survive on given current uncertainties. Another says they were told not to spend time with family or friends outside of work, but should still come in for their shift. More than one employee has told me that staff members they know are ready to simply quit if the company doesn’t officially close its doors in the coming days.
Exact conditions appear to vary from store to store. Some staff I’ve spoken to have had hand sanitiser and gloves provided, while others have had to bring their own to work. According to one employee, stores with staff forced to self-isolate have been bringing in staff from other, less affected stores to provide cover, potentially an infection risk to an increased pool of contact.
Almost all employees I’ve spoken to, however, have discussed cramped working conditions for staff behind CeX cash desks. Due to the sheer amount of shelved stock kept behind desks in CeX outlets, many staff are seemingly unable to allow for the recommended distance between colleagues, due to cramped conditions. “The space behind our counter is maybe 3 feet deep,” wrote one current employee, “and generally cluttered with stock/footstools/other stuff we need, and [the area behind cabinets where hardware is kept] is even more cramped, so no, we can’t keep an appropriate amount of space between staff members.” Another told me that it’s “impossible” to stay the recommended distance from colleagues, given that distance between tills is often less than a metre.
Like most retailers, signs for the public have been put up in shopfronts, instructing them in how to stay safe while shopping but, as one current employee put it, “If customers were taking the pandemic seriously they wouldn’t be coming in to buy a bunch of 50p DVDs putting themselves and us at risk. People seem to be ignoring government advice about staying home.”
That decision to stay out of stores now seems to have been made for the public. An announcement from CeX is likely to follow in due course, but it’s unclear whether the retailer will change its policies to improve employee health when it is able to reopen.
While compiling this report, I’ve attempted multiple points of contact with CeX, but have not received a reply.