Retail trade union Usdaw has today launched shocking statistics from their annual survey during the annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, 15-21 November. Interim results from nearly 3,500 retail staff show that in the last twelve months:

  1. 89% have experienced verbal abuse.
  2. 64% were threatened by a customer.
  3. 11% were assaulted.
  4. 46% said they were not confidentthat reporting abuse, threats and violence will make a difference.
  5. 7% of those who had been assaulted did not report the incident.

The annual Respect for Shopworkers Week runs from 15-21 November this year. During the campaign week Usdaw reps, activists and officials are raising awareness of the year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign, talking to the public at street stalls and in shops to promote a message of ‘respect for shopworkers’.

Usdaw is campaigning for a new protection of workers law, like the ground-breaking legislation that came into force in Scotland in August this year. The union continues to call on the Government to extend those protections to shopworkers across the rest of the UK, which is supported by leading voices across the retail sector.

Two amendments have been tabled in the House of Lords to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, by Labour shadow minister Lord Coaker and Conservative backbencher Baroness Neville-Rolfe. Usdaw is urging Peers to support the amendments, which are due to be debated, at the committee stage of the Bill, today Wednesday 17 November 2021.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is shocking that 9 in 10 of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. So it is extremely worrying that half are not confident that reporting these issues will make any difference.

“The new protection of workers law in Scotland is welcome and we urge the UK Government to extend it to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retail staff across the UK have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough. The alarm bells are ringing and it is time for the Government to make a difference. They can act quickly by supporting the Lords protection of workers amendments to their flagship policing bill. When retail employers, leading retail bodies, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the shopworkers’ trade union jointly call for legislation, it is time to listen.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Too often I hear stories about colleagues being spat at, racially abused, or threatened with weapons, while simply doing their job. Our own research shows that there are over 450 incidents of violence and abuse perpetrated against shop staff every single day. Our colleagues work incredibly hard, day in, day out, to keep shelves stocked, goods delivered and our needs met. They deserve our gratitude and we all have a part to play in stamping out this scourge of violence and abuse that continues to rise across the UK. Current laws in place simply do not go far enough, so our message is clear – we need a new law to protect retail workers and we need it now.”

Jo Whitfield, CEO Co-op Food, said: “Abuse and assaults should not be part of the job, and there is now a real opportunity for Government to provide shopworkers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the same protection as they have in Scotland. It is not just the physical impact on colleagues, but the mental wellbeing of frontline shopworkers who face this behaviour on a daily basis – they should be able to carry out their valued role in local community life free from fear. A workers’ law would send out a clear message and start to bring about a change in the perception that it is ok to attack and abuse shopworkers.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Shopworkers are on the front line, serving their communities and enforcing the law – they do not deserve to come to work in fear of violence and abuse, but these incidents are far too common and often go unreported.

“The Government needs to take further action to protect the 392,000 people working in convenience stores, and the hundreds of thousands working in the rest of the retail sector. This must include tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers, and a commitment from local forces to take these incidents seriously.”

Voices from the frontline: Some of the comments from shopworkers responding to this year’s annual survey:

  1. “Customer attempted to punch me upon asking for ID from his partner who appeared under 25.”
  2. “Mocking my intelligence and misogynistic comment about my physical abilities.”
  3. “Pulled my top open and stuffed some paper down my chest.”
  4. “A customer spat in my face, in another incident a customer threw a basket of stock at me.”
  5. “Abuse over rules, Covid policy and face masks.”
  6. “Been physically assaulted, spat at, verbally abused, punched, hand round throat.”
  7. “Called a c**t because we don’t have enough turkeys.”
  8. “Hit with trolleys, verbally abused, called names and pushed.”
  9. “Was shouted and sworn at, threatened to be beaten up and set on fire.”
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