Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has called for Government action in light of the Office for National Statistics today reporting a 14% increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting in England and Wales over the last decade. Theft from shops is a main trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.

Last year Usdaw and the retail employers responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’, jointly pushing for action to tackle this growing problem. The Government is yet to respond.

Usdaw’s survey of over 4,000 retail staff that shows:

  • On average shopworkers are verbally abused, threatened or assaulted more than 21 times a year, which is nearly once a fortnight.
  • Around two-thirds of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse,
  • 41% were threatened by a customer,
  • Nearly 5% were assaulted, which amounts to around 400 assaults every day across all UK shopworkers.

Usdaw’s response to a Home Office ‘call for evidence’:

Usdaw’s call for Government action has been backed by retailers and their representative organisations. A joint letter to the Home Secretary and other Ministers recommends:

  • Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers.
  • Change to the out of court disposals system (eg 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.

The full letter can be viewed at:

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says:
“Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, with theft from shops often triggering violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. These statistics are extremely worrying for our members and we believe that police recorded incidents under-estimate the scale of the problem because of significant under-reporting of incidents.

“Usdaw has consistently demonstrated the full extent of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Last year we and the retail employers responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and with one voice we pushed for action to tackle this growing problem. We are deeply concerned that the Government is yet to respond to our shared concerns and call for action.

“Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. Usdaw and many retailers continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.

“We are aware of the existing criminal offences that could apply when shopworkers are assaulted, threatened or harassed. However our members’ experience is that the law is failing vulnerable workers. Many incidents are not even reported to the police. When they are the police response is often unsatisfactory because of their resource problems. Cases which do progress to trial often result in sentences which the victims consider unsatisfactory.

“Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 400,000 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.

Police recorded crimes in England and Wales – released 23 January 2020:

Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2019 survey, based on 4,691 responses, show that in 2019: 65.01% were verbally abused, 41.00% were threatened. 11.68% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 4.75% had been assaulted this year, which amounts to 390 assaults per day across all shopworkers.

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