The pet supplies chain Pets at Home is facing a social media backlash after it sent a letter asserting that its staff qualified for the coronavirus key workers list.
A letter, drafted by the retail company for its employees to allow them to apply to headteachers for emergency school childcare, argued that its workers were eligible under the criteria of providing key goods.
The document, signed by the company’s group legal director, states its workers qualify under the provision of hygienic and veterinary medicines.
It says that its Vets4Pets business and other specialist veterinary staff are on the essential workers list. But it also claims that those working at its “Groom Room”, where a bath, brush and blow-dry for a dog starts at £20, are eligible, as well as store staff, customer services workers and other office support functions.
Stuart Lock, chief executive of the Advantage Schools multi-academy trust in Bedfordshire, said he would boycott the chain as a result of the letter and accused the company of “putting their business ahead of lives on a technicality”.
Beckie West, a secondary school teacher, said she was concerned that “soon we’ll be at the point in my classroom where all the children have keyworker letters”. She added: “How do I keep these children 2 metres apart? I will be honest, I don’t know the solution but this isn’t closing schools, is it?”
The company said that the letter was “simply intended to help [staff], and teachers at their children’s schools, understand what we believe to be the government guidelines” and said that people relied on its services to feed and care for pets.
“There is no question that NHS workers and others on the frontline are the utmost priority,” the statement said. “We asked colleagues using this letter to also be respectful of the needs of others and the difficult decisions schools are having to take and to only apply for key worker status if absolutely necessary.”
The letter emerged as concerns continue that the key workers list is too loosely defined to ensure that a manageable numbers of children return to schools.
One headteacher said: “Our advice is to make sure we socially distance at school. If we are having to cater for shop workers in this kind of role, then we are going to struggle to do that.”
Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaderssaid: “The key worker list is extensive and schools will not be able to cope with the number of children who could potentially arrive on Monday morning.
“It is important that the public understands that this is not business as usual. The provision in school is likely to be more akin to childcare than a normal timetable. Schools are working to an incredibly tight timescale to turn round this provision, and we would ask everybody to show patience and understanding.”
On Sunday, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “If your work is not critical in the response to coronavirus then please keep your child at home.”
The letter claims eligibility for staff at Pets at Home, the Pets at Home Groom Room, Vets4Pets, Companion Care, Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists, Dick White Referrals, Northwest Veterinary Specialists and the Eye Clinic.
It claims its “clinical teams” qualify under “the provision of essential services being veterinary services and medicines”. Its “store colleagues” qualify under “sale of food and other necessary goods including veterinary medicines”.
The letter reads: “We can confirm that our colleague/partner who has requested continued educational care falls within the list of critical categories and that their role is necessary for the continuation of essential services and that during this time they are unable to provide safe care for their child(ren) at home.”
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