By Ian McConnell

Supermarket group J Sainsbury has announced it will keep all of its stores closed on Boxing Day this year.

It declared it "is the first grocer to announce it is keeping all of its supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol filling stations shut on Sunday 26th December", with its chief executive declaring it was by doing so saying a "massive thank you" to staff.

The supermarket group added that all of its Argos and Habitat stores would also stay closed on Boxing Day.

Sainsbury said: "The decision to keep all stores shut has been made in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of colleagues throughout a challenging 18 months, since the start of the pandemic. Sainsbury’s senior leaders have been listening closely to colleagues as well as trade unions and have made the move in response to their feedback.

"Around 170,000 colleagues will be able to enjoy Boxing Day off as a result of the...decision. Sainsbury’s hopes that by keeping all stores shut on Boxing Day more colleagues can benefit from a longer break from work and have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with friends and family."

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of trade union Usdaw, said: “After discussions with Sainsbury’s we very much welcome the company closing all their stores on Boxing Day this year, to give their staff a proper break over Christmas. The pandemic showed just how important shopworkers are to our society and communities, as they stepped up and kept essential services running throughout.

“Key workers have done so much this year and we don’t think it is too much to ask to give them the longest possible break over the festive season. We now hope that other retailers will follow Sainsbury’s lead, by closing their stores on 26th December to help workers enjoy their Christmas, give them a well-deserved breather and make Boxing Day special again.”

Simon Roberts, chief executive of Sainsbury, said: “Christmas is a really special time for so many, but because of lockdown restrictions last year, lots of us weren’t able to celebrate in the way we wanted. In recognition of this and to say a massive thank you to all our colleagues for everything they have done during the last challenging year, we will be closing all of our supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol filling stations, as well as Argos and Habitat stores, this Boxing Day. I want to thank our customers in advance for their understanding, which will mean as many of our team as possible can have a well-deserved break to spend time with loved ones.”