From the bedfordshire on sunday...
Written by KATHRYN CAIN
CONCERNS are being raised about the privacy of staff at a new supermarket being invaded after background checks were carried out on all employees with no reason for doing so.
All of the 295 staff working at the new Morrisons, due to open in Ampthill Road, Bedford, tomorrow morning, have been checked by the company to find out not only about any criminal convictions, but also reprimands, warnings and cautions for minor offences which would be categorised as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
Harmless though they may seem, privacy campaigners fear that the company is being overzealous with its checks by delving too deep into a person’s record by using an agency of the Scottish Government, Disclosure Scotland, even though they may only be stacking shelves.
In English law, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), formerly the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), carries out checks on people who will be working with children or vulnerable adults or in situations where there is a high risk. Staff such as those working in the retail industry would not be eligible for such checks.
A spokeswoman for the DBS said: “The DBS does not provide a check that we can find or any kind of eligibility that a normal member of retail staff would have.”
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “Background checks are there to protect vulnerable people and children and shouldn’t be used routinely like this. A piece of paper is no substitute for proper judgement by a manager and it’s exactly the same safety-by-database approach that has been wholly counterproductive in recent years.
“Parliament changed the law on this last year to expressly limit the use of these checks and it raises questions about what is going on when Morrisons is using the Scottish Government’s system to check on English staff, where there is no question about the role being one that could pose a safety risk.”
A generic application form for any position with a Morrisons store tells the applicant that if they take up employment it ‘may be necessary for security purposes for Morrisons to carry out a credit reference check on senior, night and duty management, all cash office employees, warehouse, petrol and pharmacy management, checkout management and security and central salaried personnel.’
The form says nothing about ordinary floor or till staff being checked or anything about their previous convictions.
Morrisons told Bedfordshire on Sunday that the reason they insist all staff be subjected to the checks is because their customers expect it and that it is important they understand the background of the people they employ.
A spokesman for the supermarket chain said: “We undertake background checks to ensure our stores are safe places to shop and work. All checks comply with the law and are carried out with the full knowledge and authorisation of all applicants.”