Survey highlights need for shopworker protection law

A new survey by retail trade union Usdaw highlights the escalating issue of abuse against shop workers during the pandemic, with 92% experiencing verbal abuse and 14% physical assault.

ublished as the union embarked on its Freedom from Fear summer campaign week (August 22-29), preliminary results of the survey included 1,966 UK retail workers over the last 12 months. The survey is still open with final data to be published in the New Year.

It also found 70% had been threatened by a customer, and 20% had not reported incidents to their employer including 5% of those experiencing physical assault.

Usdaw has renewed its call for introduction of legislation making assault, threats or abuse of shopworkers a specific offence, in line with the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill which came into force on August 24.

Testimonies by Northern Ireland shopworkers responding to Usdaw’s survey include:

• “People throwing things at me, being abusive about waiting times and about not wearing masks.”

• “I have been called names and sexually harassed.”

• “Physically slapped by a customer, spat at and had groceries thrown at me.”

• “High volumes of verbal abuse when either following the Think 25 policy or refusing to serve an individual alcohol who is already under the influence.”

• “Screamed at for not having stock. Basket thrown at me because we didn’t have the ready meal he wanted. Threatened to wait on me outside the store when I finished because she was unable to get a refund.”

“It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Northern Irish shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they receive,” said Paddy Lillis, general secretary, Usdaw. “Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law.

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90% of shopworkers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted.

“We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused. Action to protect shop workers is needed.

“A new protection of shopworkers law comes into force in Scotland, but we are deeply disappointed that the UK government has continued to resist a similar measure in 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. They are deeply concerned that the current high levels of abuse will become the norm unless the Government takes urgent and meaningful action. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.

“The Government has promised to bring forward an amendment to their flagship policing bill in the House of Lords and we urge them to keep their word.”

Glyn Roberts, chief executive, Retail NI, said: “Sadly these figures of increased staff abuse come as no surprise. During lockdown, Retail workers put their own health at risk to ensure people could buy food and other essential items.

“It is shameful that so many staff have been the victim of verbal and physical abuse by customers over the last 12 months.

“We fully support Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear campaign and would urge the NI Executive to follow Scotland’s lead and pass legislation to give shop staff greater protection from such abuse.”

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