Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has today addressed a fringe meeting at Labour conference in Brighton, jointly organised by The Co-op Group and the Co-operative Party, looking at ‘safer communities, safer shopworkers’.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says:
“Violence, threats and abuse are growing issues for retail staff and something that both Usdaw and the Co-op take very seriously. Since 2002, Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Campaign has been working with the Co-op to tackle abuse against retail staff.
“During this time, the Co-op and Usdaw has organised public facing campaigns highlighting the issues workers face. We have brought together key stakeholders, educating politicians, police forces and the Home Office on impact of violence against shopworkers. And we have jointly reviewed Co-op’s internal employment policies, making sure that Co-op employees feel supported and cared for in their place of work. As a result of our joint commitment to Freedom From Fear we have delivered a wide range of initiatives to tackle threats and abuse against retail staff.
“Earlier this year, as part of Usdaw’s response to a Government consultation, we surveyed over 3,000 shopworkers getting first-hand accounts and experiences from the shop floor. This survey showed that 80% of shopworkers believe that abuse and violence has increased in recent years. We found harrowing accounts of homophobic, racist and sexist abuse. Instances of members being stabbed, hospitalised and left with broken bones and reports of retail staff petrified of returning to their jobs. All of these reports came from front-line staff who are simply trying to do their job.
“One issue that is clearly evident from the survey is the impact that abuse and violence is having on mental, as well as physical health. When workers are having to return to working the same store, operating the same tills, replenishing the same shelves, and sometimes even serving the same customers; this can have a devastating impact an individual’s mental health.
“However, the impact on the workforce, both the physical and emotional, is being wilfully ignored by Government and as a result, the problem of violence against retail staff is getting worse. For this reason, we were delighted to see the Co-op launch their own Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign last year.
“Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities is the first entirely employer led campaign to highlight the issue of violence against retail staff and a campaign which both Usdaw and the Co-op are completely committed to.
“Over the last 12 months, our joint campaigning work has: Ensured a Government consultation on violence and abuse against shop staff; delivered a parliamentary debate on retail crime, and has overseen the implementation of advanced technologies so that Co-op employees feel more secure at work.
“This is just the start of the campaign and, as outlined in Emmeline Taylor’s excellent report on the subject, there are still many issues we need to tackle. Emmeline’s report provides a compelling picture of the issues retail workers face on a daily basis and is therefore a must read for Government and the Home Office.
“From Usdaw’s research, from the Co-op’s work and from recent research from the Association of Convenience Stores, it is clear that shopworkers are not getting the protection they need. For this reason, Usdaw is committed to campaigning with the Co-op to deliver an Assaults on Retail Workers Bill.
“At the same time, we need to ensure that there are enough police officers on the streets to be able to enforce the law. All too often we hear comments that retail crime is no longer a police priority, or that police forces are simply far too stretched. Comments such as these and repeated instances where police fail to attend crimes, have a clear impact on the retail workforce. Shopworkers start to believe that abuse is now an expected part of the job and that there is nothing that can be done about it.
“Usdaw is clear that abuse is not part of the job for any workers.”
Report by Dr Emmeline Taylor of City, University of London: ‘It’s not part of the job’: Violence and verbal abuse towards shop workers – A review of evidence and policy
Usdaw survey of 3,272 retail workers across England and Wales found that 80% believe that abuse and violence have increased in recent years. Forming the basis of Usdaw’s response to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’, the survey also revealed:
- 62% have been the victim of verbal or physical abuse.
- Almost a quarter describe threats of physical violence, with over half of these involving threats with weapons – most commonly knives, syringes or bottles.
- 15% describe actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched or kicked or attacked with weapons.
Usdaw’s full response: www.usdaw.org.uk/UsdawEvidence
Usdaw’s call for Government action has been backed by retailers and their representative organisations. A joint letter sent to the Home Secretary and other Ministers called for:
- Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers.
- Change to the out of court disposals system (e.g. fixed penalty notices) which is failing to have an impact on reoffending.
- A full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector.
Full joint letter: www.usdaw.org.uk/RetailViolenceLetter
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 410,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.